Sony’s Super Tapes

Sony have recently announced that they intend to release a new type of cassette tape, a fact that probably fills the hearts of retro lovers with joy at the prospect of getting the latest tracks in an obsolete format. However, the new product isn’t merely targeting the retro-chic market, it appears to be an attempt to woo serious music lovers away from Apple and their almost complete dominance of the portable music device market. The new cassette tape is more akin to a “super tape” with an almost unfathomable capacity for data storage, with a single complete cassette being able to hold 148 terabytes. This clearly surpasses any iPod or any other MP3 player on the market with the flagship product, the iPhone 6 holding 128 gigabytes a mere 0.084% of a single Sony cassette tape.

The huge data holding capacity is being marketed as a huge advancement in the personal music devise market, as it would allow a staggering 64,750,000 songs or in other words 134,896 days’ worth. While this does appear incredible, the actual necessity of holding nearly 370 years of music has to be questioned in the usefulness of this product. This writer considers himself a music lover, but I cannot understand why anyone would purchase a devise that if filled, would merely hold music that the owner would never hear, barring an exceptional increase in life expectancy.

The excess level of data storage hints at the original purpose of the cassette tape, industrial data storage. During the last decade companies have been improving magnetic tapes as large corporations are increasingly required to store data, for instance all exchanges completed on stock markets have be recorded and available to access for years. While these exchanges only take up tiny amounts of data, the sheer number means that magnetic tapes are still the most cost effective method, since 140 terabytes of storage on modern hard drives can cost up to £6000. Furthermore the tapes are harder to doctor since the data is physically printed onto the tape and takes up a lot less physical space, another cost saving.

There are other issues with magnetic tapes, for instance who could forget having to rewind tape onto the cassette or having an album ruined by the younger members of the family. This issue would be even greater if your entire music collection was on a single tape. Returning to cassette tapes also means having to purchase conversion hardware to write existing music collections onto the tapes. Also the reason for the demise of cassette tapes has to be considered, the format’s inability to allow searches or multiple levels of data access.

This product release from Sony feels like a mere rebranding of industrial data storage rather than an actual planned re-entry into the consumer music market. It also appears to be a cynical attempt to draw attention to one of Apple’s product failures, the lack of storage space that their products provide compared to competitors. While this will not help Sony seize much of the market that iPods and iPhones have secured, it could generate more interest into other Sony devises at the expense of Apple.