Summary:

Apple (NSDQ: AAPL), which dominates legal digital music downloads, has (so far) stayed away from cloud-based music services. That has given…

Sony

Apple (NSDQ: AAPL), which dominates legal digital music downloads, has (so far) stayed away from cloud-based music services. That has given competitors a chance to step up with their own offerings. The latest service comes to us from Sony (NYSE: SNE), who today announced it would add music to its cloud-based entertainment service Qriocity, to be available on a variety of connected Sony devices, from Bravia TVs to Android-based handsets.

Qriocity launched earlier this year with video and movie-based content, in April in the U.S. and then extending that to Europe in November. No numbers on how well that older part of the service has done.

This new music service will launch first in the U.K. and Ireland, with the aim to extend the service to US. Canada, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Australia and New Zealand “in due course” in 2011.

Strangely enough, although Sony itself has its own extensive music and digital media operations, the company has contracted another company, Omnifone, to coordinate content licensing, development and delivery of the service, “leveraging its existing expertise in the music industry.”

Omnifone has been behind a number of other cloud-based music projects and has its roots in offering white-label services via mobile operators like Vodafone (NYSE: VOD), which around a year ago claimed 450,000 subscribers to its Omnifone-powered service.

There are other companies offering other variants of “cloud” music services, such as Spotify and last.fm, that have already built up sizeable profiles and followings (if not profit).

What might pose a challenge for Qriocity is that it is charging for its service against a market that has many free offerings such as these.

Sony is hoping that what it is offering in two price packages will sway their target market of those who are not tied to owning all their tracks, or those who at least put a premium on being able to listen to music they like wherever, and whenever they want to.

Qriocity’s basic package (£3.99; €3.99 in Ireland) gives users unlimited, ad-free forward skipping of the songs; access to a library of six million tracks, and “dozens of personalized channels” categorized by genre, era and even mood, using something Sony calls “SensMe,” a “proprietary 12-tone analysis technology used to evaluate music tracks”. The service not only scans what you are playing but what music is already on your devices, to help build up a profile of your tastes.

The premium service (£9.99; €9.99) lets users also create playlists and access premium top-100 channels. Premium can also be trialled for free for 30 days.

As with Apple’s iTunes service, ultimately this is service is aimed at driving more sales of Sony consumer electronics. Both services can be used across a number of Sony devices, with each of them effectively pick up listening where the last device left off.

The full list of devices that can play Qriocity music: Sony’s 2010 models of network-enabled BRAVIA® TV, Blu-ray Disc™ player, Blu-ray Disc Home Theater system, PlayStation®3 computer entertainment system as well as VAIO and other personal computers. Sony says that it will also eventually be usable on Sony’s portable devices, as well as Android-based mobile devices (possibly even those not made by Sony Ericsson).

Will that be enough to sway users? On the mobile side, much of Omnifone’s impetus came out of a time before the smartphone explosion, when there wasn’t much space on a phone to store significant amounts of music. Now with more operators re-introducing tiered plans this will also be a dent in “unlimited” streaming-based offerings.

Although Omnifone has in the past created services that let users store tracks on their actual devices to be able to listen offline, it is not clear that if you subscribe to Qriocity, you will get to keep the music you like, if you unsubscribe.

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