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Vaio Pocket takes aim at iPod

Sony unveils a new digital music player, but analysts say it has a long way to go before it challenges iPod's dominance.
Sony's Vaio Pocket is equipped with a 20 GB hard-disk drive that enables it to store up to 13,000 songs as well as images from digital cameras.Katsumi Kasahara / AP
/ Source: Reuters

Sony Corp has created a buzz with the unveiling of a new digital music player, but analysts say it has a long way to go before it challenges the industry dominance of Apple Computer's popular iPod.

Sony unveiled the new portable music player on Monday along with a slew of new VAIO-brand computers.

Dubbed "Vaio pocket", it features a hard-disk drive capable of storing 13,000 songs and can store digital camera images too. It will be the first portable music player with an embedded hard-disk drive to be sold under the Sony brand name when it hits stores in Japan next month.

Sony said that overseas launch dates have not been set.

Industry watchers say Sony will struggle to gain a stronger footing in the fast-growing industry now dominated by Apple.

The U.S.-based company has nearly 50 percent of the market for digital MP3 music players thanks to the iPod's success.

"In terms of actually attacking Apple it's only a start. I don't see any major shake down in the industry right now," said Standard & Poor's equity analyst John Yang.

"I just don't see how Sony could really turn the whole thing upside down with iPod."

Sony's new product will have a 20 GB hard drive and retail for about 53,000 yen ($465). In terms of price, that puts it close to the top-of the line iPod, which has a 40 GB hard drive, holds about 10,000 songs, and sells for $499.

Apple also offers an "iPod mini" which has a 4GB hard drive and goes for $249. It also sells players in between.

But Sony, which pioneered the market for portable music with its Walkman player 25 years ago, is hoping to attract consumers with more than just price.

The "VAIO pocket" can be connected to a digital camera and display photos on a 2.2-inch colour liquid crystal display screen.

"More than just a digital audio player, it enables the user to catalogue audio tracks with images whereby they can quickly retrieve and enjoy their favourite tunes," said Sony spokesman David Yang.

Sony declined to give sales targets for the new machine.

Earlier this year, Sony introduced eight new MP3 music players -- six flash memory and two hard disk models -- for sale under its Aiwa brand. Aiwa was a subsidiary completely absorbed by Sony in December 2002.

Sony Chairman Nobuyuki Idei has said he sees an opportunity to use Aiwa for a multiple brand strategy, similar to auto giant Toyota Motor Corp's efforts to create a premium "Lexus" brand and a less expensive "Scion" brand.