Rival technologies that baffle consumers will run more companies out of business in the nascent music download market than will head-to-head competition, one of the lead creators of MP3 playback technology warned on Wednesday.
"It has slowed the download business for sure, and it's doing the same for the gadget makers," said Dr. Karlheinz Brandenburg, director of electronic media technologies at the Fraunhofer Institut in Ilemenau, Germany.
Consumers nowadays can store thousands of songs in a pocket-sized device, play music and videos on their mobile phones and buy albums at the click of a button.
But to their chagrin, a bewildering number of competing playback compression technologies and anti-piracy software options determine which songs play on which devices.
Apple Computers, Real Networks and Sony Corp. each have developed proprietary playback and DRM anti-piracy technologies. Songs bought on Apple's iTunes music store can play only on Apple iPods. Ditto for Sony.
The alphabet soup of technologies is meant to prevent fans from rampantly duplicating and transferring songs to others.
Brandenburg said he twice warned manufacturers and music labels that they risk alienating fans and driving them to unsanctioned file-sharing networks, where the songs are free and encoded in the unprotected MP3 format.
"They didn't listen. Maybe they thought it made commercial sense not to have a standard. It's very strange," he told Reuters on the sidelines of the Popkomm music conference.
Brandenburg should be the last man on the planet to complain about the impasse. Granted a lucrative patent in 1986 for developing the MP3, he and the Fraunhofer Institut collect royalties on the sale of MP3 players, including Apple's iPod.
"Blank MP3s is the only standard. It is supported by all," he said. "This has been good news for Fraunhofer. And, I consider myself a wealthy man as well."