U.K. digital entertainment company 7digital is going to be busy with various new partners in the months ahead, and it's covering all the bases for digital music from mobile apps and tablets to browser access and even image recognition.

The company held an event for media and partners at Paramount on the 31st floor of the Centrepoint building in London today (Oct. 19). CEO Ben Drury showed off its music services working on new platforms, including the 7-inch Samsung Galaxy Tab, which is launching in the next few weeks in the U.K.

"I believe this is a serious contender against the iPad - but different," said Drury of the tablet, which uses the Android 2.2 operating system. "We think the tablet market is very exciting, and Apple is not going to have it all to itself."

Samsung has worked with 7digital's API to create a default music platform that plays music and takes the user directly to 7digital's download store.

Graeme Simons, business manager at Toshiba, showed off the company's Folio 100 Android tablet and, mindful of Apple's headstart, said the Flash-enabled product will be "considerably cheaper than the early entrant to the market."

It is also set to launch in the coming weeks. The 7digital download service will be incorporated into the Toshiba Marketplace, where users can purchase digital entertainment content through various partners.

U.K. entertainment retailer HMV, which is 7digital's investor partner, has begun stocking iPads and is like to stock other tablet devices.

500,000 BlackBerry Apps Installed

Drury also stressed 7digital's international reach in 30 countries, which enables partners to secure a global presence without the need for individual licensing agreements for music purchases.

The 7digital store's BlackBerry app has 500,000 installs internationally, Drury added, and it has also completed an Android app. An iPhone version is with Apple for consideration.

Alongside apps, the company has been working on its Web operation. A new browser-based mobile store has also been launched, which is compatible with HTML 5 and is set to be available in 32 countries.

Later this year, the upgraded 7digital website will also incorporate editorial content from the BBC and listings from Songkick.

"We think the possibilities of HTML 5 will make websites feel a lot richer," said Drury. "We really want to be at the forefront of that."

Music Purchases Via the Cloud

Drury also demonstrated the cloud-based 7digital Player, where users can access music they have purchased via a locker on the website. It has been in beta for the last few months and he showed how a song purchased via BlackBerry would synch with the 7digital Player using Push technology.

He also announced that 7digital is now mobile telco O2's digital music partner for PC, mobile and connected devices in the U.K., although there were no further details on the collaboration.

Finally, there was a successful demonstration of a forthcoming image recognition service. While this has been done before with album sleeves, the 7digital Android app will be able to take users direct to the download store from other artist images such as adverts. The audience was shown how an image of a Foo Fighters advert on a London bus could send the user directly to the band's greatest hits via 7digital.

Although 7digital does not have the sales clout of iTunes, it has established partnerships with key players such as Spotify, enabling users to purchase downloads of songs they have streamed.

Digital Album Sales Growing Fast

Drury said that 7digital's growth rate is ahead of the overall market. He forecast total market digital music sales of £230 million ($361.4 million) in the U.K. in 2010, adding that it would represent 27% of the recorded music market compared to 20% in 2009.

Drury predicted that "digital will overtake physical as early as next year" in the U.K., if all digital revenue such as subscriptions and streaming is included.

Across the market, digital album sales are experiencing faster growth in 2010 compared to last year while track sales growth is at a slower pace, he added.

"It shows customers appreciate a body of work rather than cherry picking individual tracks," said Drury.

He added that 7digital's track-to-album ratio of sales is 3.5, suggesting it was 8.9 on iTunes. (So almost nine individual tracks are purchased on iTunes for every complete album bundle that is purchased on Apple's store in the U.K., according to 7digital.)

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