Sony, SonicStage and the web

I’ve been using my Sony NW-A3000 for a while now and I love the player, but as you can see from a previous post, I don’t like the Connect software, it’s awful. Luckily there’s another package you can use that Sony seem to have developed a bit better than Connect, and that’s SonicStage.

The first question is why are Sony using two separate software packages for their devices, and that one is beyond me, they should have just the one, the second is why they aren’t developing the application? After all it does have some great features, like the Artist Link, but then it’s seriously lacking in others.

Now this isn’t going to be a full feature run down, I’m leaving that for the review I’ll eventually do, but there are a number of areas I find that it’s missing out on.

There’s one thing that stands out for me when I’m playing music from my PC through SonicStage, it doesn’t allow me to rate or edit the details of the current song I’m listening to. One of the most annoying things is that while I’m looking at my playlist and playing songs on shuffle, the screen won’t jump to the song I’m playing, I have to scroll through the list to find it – isn’t that a fundamental issue?

The Artist Link is a superb feature that allows artists to be categorised, for instance Duran Duran, on my list anyway, belong to the Pop and 80’s categories, and then displays them graphically on a cool animated tree structure. For instance Duran Duran links to a node called 80’s and another called Pop, select one of these and it expands to show the others in that category, select one of those artists and the tree moves forward, etc. The great thing about this list is that it is already prepopulated, I would hope this is done by pulling the metadata from all the other players on the Internet, but I doubt it.

That’s a cracking feature, but all it appears to be is a nice graphical display. I haven’t found a way to make the player follow that linkage, so if I’m playing Duran Duran and I click on 80’s, it should select a random artist from that group as the next song, and as I click through it should follow my musical choice as the end of the last song fades out. It doesn’t. Neither does the screen automatically change to the currently playing song, so if Duran Duran fade out (as they have) and it clicks to Niagara, why doesn’t the Artist Link pop onto that artist and display their categories – rock and foreign language – that’s an example because I don’t actually know what Niagara are categorised on my list.

These points aside, today I was looking at some nice little web players. You drop them on your website and they allow your website visitors to play MP3 tunes you upload. Great little tools, but they all import iTunes and Media Player if you’re lucky. Why not SonicStage? Okay they aren’t the most popular of devices, but still, surely it’s a simple API addition?

I’m sure it isn’t, looking at the failure of their software teams from Connect and some of the simple issues with SonicStage.

Still, why doesn’t SonicStage offer simple integration with applets? I can’t even pull information into widgets on my desktop, never mind the web. Couldn’t Sony add this, or even create a little applet that pulls information from SonicStage? A simple web based player and a mini-player for your desktop?

For instance how cool would it be to see the Artist Link feature running on a website, browsing my own playlist – well those I want to share anyway? Then the ones I’ve uploaded the visitor could simply play. Better still, if they incorporated the features from an application such as VibeStreamer, SonicStage could stream the music to a simple browser player that runs in Java or Flash. Suddenly it’s becoming a hub for music streaming to my other computers and perhaps that mini player on my website which carries the Artist Link feature.

Come on Sony. Get your act together and start seeing what your customers are doing on the web and at home with their music and then start connecting with these other companies offering website and desktop applications and making your system work with them.

First though, you have to listen to your users, beta test products with them, and develop a friendly piece of software. Before you know it your fancy players, which are superb to use, will die out because of your poor software. We’ve seen it happen before.

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