Maybe Sony bought Gracenote so that Apples iPhone 2.0 will not be able to listen

[Post edited last 1st of May 2008 to insert comment below the article about Shazam as an alternative to Gracenote]

Our hypothesis:
Maybe Sony bought Gracenote at the 22nd of April 2008 for $260M so that Apples iPhone 2.0 announced for June 2008 will not be able to listen to music and identify what song is played.

Our line-of-reasoning behind that:

1) January 7th 2008: for hacked iPhones is released
The developer Erica Sadun released beginning of January 2008 the Phone application “Listen” that makes use of the Gracenote sound recognition service to identify title, artist and album for any music that the application would “hear” (nice overview here). Users could click on a link to go to iTunes to buy the song directly online (not fully functional in the beta). User feedback to is extremely positive:

“Listen. Motivated two of them to go buy iPhones, a smart move since 1.3 has hit. But the BEST sign that Listen is powerful came when I showed it t my wife. She could care less about gadgets and basically has pretended to be interested in whatever I show her on my iPhone. But when I showed her Listen, she suddenly became VERY interested. If it caught HER attention, that means there’s a huge market for Listen.”

The expected release of the iPhone 2.0 SDK in June 2008 would allow every iPhone owner to run as an application on his phone.

2) January 14th 2008: has to be stopped because Gracenote wants to get it license fees for the usage of its service A person that claims to be Stephen White, the VP of Product and Content Management at Gracenote, commented Erica’s post:

“Our Partner Sony Ericsson has been at the forefront of integrating this type of functionality and has integrated the results into their store, and into recommendations. Their implementation provides many of the functions you have asked for in your comments here and I urge you all to check out their handsets.

Apple is also a Gracenote partner and has the opportunity to integrate this feature into their iPhone platform. We cannot comment on their plans but we urge you to let them know that you would like this feature.”

3) April 22nd 2008:
Sony bought Gracenote for $260M: News on Forbes

Closing comments:
While there are alternatives to Gracenote services (example: ) there is the possibility that Gracenotes acoustic recognition service (originally invented by Philips: details here- ) especially in situations with background noise (the typical scenario for an application on a mobile device that is trying to identify a song that is played maybe in the radio of the taxi driver) is better than what Apple could get from another service.

It looks to us like Sony is with the acquisition of Gracenote in the position to either:

  • prevent or delay a like solution on the iPhone and get for Sony Ericsson mobile phones a competitive advantage or
  • charge a premium for using Gracenote acoustic recognition on iPhone 2.0 or
  • participate on every iTunes sale generated through a like solution on the iPhone 2.0 platform

This is a theoretical line-of-reasoning, we put it together because all of us are enjoying good rumors around Apple. We have no further insights than the information provided here.

Update (edited last 1st May 2008):
has been mentioned as a viable alternative to Gracenote. There is from an Apple/iTunes perspective a potential issue with Shazam’s business model : Shazam is with its new music/video download service directly competing with Apple/iTunes. This is in our view likely to be a show-stopper for Apple to use Shazam’s meta data service for audio recognition. On the other side you can obviously argue that the competition between Apple and Gracenote/Sony is even hotter.

“Vodafone, Shazam launch mobile music video downloads
By Nick Wood , Total Telecom, in Barcelona 13 February 2008
Mobile music software company Shazam announced this week it has signed an agreement with Vodafone UK to allow consumers to download full-length music videos and songs to their handsets.

… once customers have identified the song they’re hearing, they now have the option to download the full-length audio track for £1.50, or the music video for £1.99.”

The number of songs in the recognition database is one of the important factors that will drive the user experience of applications like and the user experience is all what iPhone is about. Shazam is mentioning on its website “over 4 million tracks”, Gracenote claims to have “over 7 million audio waveform fingerprints” (all figures as of 1st of May, 2008).

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April 30th, 2008 at 9:18 am and is filed under Interesting Links. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

14 Responses to “Maybe Sony bought Gracenote so that Apples iPhone 2.0 will not be able to listen”

  1. Guesser Says:
    Mai 1st, 2008 at 3:21 am

    Do you really think it’s worth it to Sony to spend $260M just to keep the iPhone from having music recognition? When they could just as easily use a competing song recognition service? I don’t buy that. As for Erica Sadun, reading the comments on the site make it look like she was using the Gracenote servers without permission. Is it surprising that she had to stop using it? My guess is it’s a matter of money rather than politics.

  2. Ralf Scharnetzki Says:
    Mai 1st, 2008 at 9:59 am

    Guesser, please see my comment about Shazam as a (in our view) not viable alternative to Gracenote for Apple. What other competing recognition services Apple could make use of in the short term (Q3 2008, that offer a similar database size and quality of recognition service) in your opinion?

    Regarding the comment to Gracenote stopping from Erica:
    No it is not at all surprising, Gracenote/Sony is a business and that means making money.

  3. Smite Says:
    Mai 1st, 2008 at 3:01 pm

    Is this a joke?

    Sony’s purchase of Gracenote was merely another in a series of regrettable mistakes. Sony tends to make these mistakes on a fairly regular basis and waste money on internet ventures.

    Go back to the drawing board and rethink your hypothesis. It may benefit you to study the history of Sony missteps in the internet industry to arrive at a reasonable hypothesis that can be proven true.

    Nothing complex here. Sony merely messed up, again.

  4. Guesser Says:
    Mai 2nd, 2008 at 11:51 pm

    Ralf, even if you are right that Shazam isn’t viable for the iPhone, that does not explain why Sony would spend a quarter *billion* dollars just to temporarily keep song recognition off the iPhone. That would only be a short term ploy at best. Even if in the long term it kept song recognition off the iPhone, would it actually be worth that much money to Sony to take such a tiny nick out of the iPhone feature set? The iPhone is already beating the pants off everyone else without even having that feature or other arguably more important features.

    Don’t you think Sony would have slightly more important reasons behind acquiring Gracenote than just hurting Apple a little? It’s really kind of a silly notion to think that’s all there is to it.

  5. Ralf Scharnetzki Says:
    Mai 4th, 2008 at 3:40 pm

    As long as you look at music recognition as just one of many features of a mobile device I agree, the Sony investment and our points above are somehow difficult to accept. And Guesser, you are right, it would be stupid from Sony to spend this amount of money to “just hurt Apple a little”. But looking from a (Sony) CEO level at the deep relation between context and content in a (more and more) information driven economy even an investment of $260M into Gracenote can make mid term very much sense. Maybe we will find the time to discuss this to a greater level of detail in another post, until then this IBM GIO 3.0 report is pointing imho into the right direction: “Chapter 3 – Context is King” + “Chapter 4 – Going Mobile” -> Link:$FILE/gio_media_and_content_report_final.pdf

  6. Ralf Scharnetzki Says:
    Mai 4th, 2008 at 3:46 pm

    Here the link to the IBM Global Innovation Outlook Media+Content (GIO 3.0) that works:

  7. Smite Says:
    Mai 5th, 2008 at 4:36 pm

    The IBM report you linked is good. The “Digital Persona” chapter is especially relevant in this case. Sony may want to own your profile via Gracenote. This is terrifying because they are people who brought us rootkit, and support the RIAA lawsuits. Perhaps this is what they are trying to accomplish with Gracenote? The ramifications are terrifying.

  8. Guesser Says:
    Mai 5th, 2008 at 10:10 pm

    Terrifying? Really? Compared to what Doubleclick/Google or credit card companies, etc., know about you, I’m having trouble being terrified. Take a look at their privacy policy:

    No IP address retention, no personally identifiable information. Sony would have to radically change Gracenote’s policy for there to be any privacy concerns, in my opinion. This privacy policy seems way better than the majority of the privacy policies from my favorite services and websites.

    Keep an eye to see if their policy changes, I suppose. If not, I wouldn’t worry. If any of the major provisions change, then perhaps it’s time for concern.

  9. Smite Says:
    Mai 6th, 2008 at 6:28 am

    I just read the policy. It certainly would not be difficult for Sony to determine that IP addresses are required for security purposes under the policy, and then retain them for as long as they need to file lawsuits. It’s not clear how long IP addresses are being retained and for what uses they are being used in the policy.

    There is hardly a need to “radically” change the policy as you indicate.

    Your examples of Doubleclick and Google are a red herring. Did you do this intentionally? They are not core members of the RIAA who support lawsuits against consumers; did not issue the rootkit; do not repeatedly sue their former customers, and are far less controversial than Gracenote overall.

    The policy does nothing to reduce my fear.

    Do you work at Gracenote, Sony, or just a consultant for them?

  10. BurtonBoy Says:
    Mai 6th, 2008 at 9:41 am

    @ Guesser
    Gracenote updated its privacy policy on April 8th, and states that they can update it merely by changing the policy statement on their site. The statement itself is vague and cleverly avoids saying that IP addresses are deleted outright.

    @ Smite
    I agree. There is cause to be concerned.

    Another possible theory to investigate is,

    “Sony bought Gracenote to prevent music piracy.”

    What do you think?

  11. Ralf Scharnetzki Says:
    Mai 7th, 2008 at 6:21 am

    Everything is possible. Whenever there is information related to you there are privacy and security issues. We are touching on those topics in this blog regularly, examples see here and here .

  12. Smite Says:
    Mai 10th, 2008 at 9:25 am

    Ralf, your posts are well taken. Privacy is a core issue. Gracenote’s “Privacy Policy” is a farce. Sony has bought itself an excellent way to propagate its agenda of DRM and full control.

    BurtonBoy, good point. Gracenote can change its policy at will. Gracenote is a company with a history of rewriting the news to fit its own agenda:

    “Gracenote Founder Rewriting History At Wikipedia”

    What’s to keep these Gracenote guys from rewriting all their policies to fit their new Sony agenda? The Steve Scherf in the Slashdot article is the same guy who sold the formerly GPL’d cddb to make some bucks on the backs of his community’s efforts:

    “CDDB Joins The Bad Patent Club”

    Then Scherf and pals started to use the community information to police copyrights by selling their data to help close down the original Napster:

    “Dear CDDB Users: Thanks For Helping The RIAA!”

    They followed up by bringing lawsuits to their former customers like Roxio who tried to switch to freedb:

    “Gracenote Sues Roxio Over Switch to Free Song Database”

    They also sued former customers for creating their own substitute for CDDB – MusicMatch:

    Gracenote has a controversial history. The “Oh, let’s just trust them” approach that Guesser suggests is terrifying indeed.

  13. Tyler Says:
    Mai 12th, 2008 at 3:15 pm

    Great post about the history of Gracenote by “knows” at

    Slashdot’s Firehose has picked it up

  14. Ralf Scharnetzki Says:
    Juli 25th, 2008 at 11:23 pm

    We are closing a funny loop here: Erica Sadun (developer of based on Gracenotes service) posted the news here Shazam for iPhone is available to recognize songs. Erica is speculating that the service will cost you between $5 to $10 for a month.

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