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Unite and Conquer

When the iPod first reared its head and changed the face of mobile music, iTunes wasn’t available on the PC. You see Apple was far more insular back then, and the iPod was very much a gadget designed by Apple fans for Apple fans. With this in mind the early iPods only used a FireWire connector (standard on Macs, not too popular on PCs at the time), and iTunes was a Mac OS only app. Therefore, if you wanted to use an iPod with a PC, you had to use MusicMatch, and potentially buy a FireWire card to get it connected.

But Apple soon realised that the Windows PC market is just too big to ignore. When the 3rd generation iPod appeared, USB connection was available, making it far more PC friendly – although it wouldn’t charge over USB for some reason. About halfway through the lifetime of the 3rd generation iPod, iTunes for Windows was launched, and new iPods shipped with it in the box. Now, USB is the standard connection method for iPods, and you’d be hard pushed to find a PC that doesn’t have iTunes loaded onto it.

Now, as Benny pointed out on Saturday, Apple has ported its Safari browser to the PC, making it very clear that although the PC and Mac are competing platforms, Apple is more than happy to support its direct competitor, if that support proves to be good for the company – and it clearly is good.

You see, although competition is healthy and often leads to innovation, it can also lead to polarisation and stagnation. Refusing to work with a competing company, just because it’s a competitor can often result in missed opportunities. No matter how big a company’s R&D resource is, sometimes a bit of outside influence can make all the difference, and this is borne out by the amount of big technology corporations that are putting down their swords and shields, and choosing to work together.

Look at the AVC-HD standard for high definition camcorders. This was developed jointly by Panasonic and Sony, despite the fact that the two companies directly compete in the camcorder market place. The result is a superb high definition recording codec, that offers great image quality and frugal use of space – something that both companies can make use of in their product lines.
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Panasonic's SD1 camcorder uses AVC HD, which was developed in conjunction with Sony.
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Likewise, the Cell Broadband Engine in the PlayStation 3 was developed by Sony, Toshiba and IBM, despite the fact that Sony and Toshiba are direct competitors in the consumer electronics and IT spaces. Once again though, the might of the combined research and development teams has produced a cutting edge component with masses of potential.

But don’t go thinking that Sony is at the spearhead of this type of collaboration. Perhaps if Sony had been a bit more forward thinking in the days of MiniDisc, it would have allowed other companies to license ATRAC. Then we wouldn’t all be tied into MP3, which is ubiquitous, but ultimately nowhere near as good a codec as ATRAC. Sony’s decision not to share the ATRAC technology ultimately meant that it never received the uptake it deserved.

Hopefully though, Sony and all the other big technology players have learned from those mistakes and realised that a share of something big, is far better than all of nothing. One thing’s for sure though – every time an innovation or major product development comes out of a collaboration, there’s one sure winner, the consumer. And that’s good for all of us.

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