Sony Corp unveiled its first MP3-compatible, hard disk Walkman music player on Tuesday in an attempt to recover ground lost to Apple Computer’s iPod.
The world’s biggest consumer electronics maker aims to reclaim the market for portable and personal music devices, which it helped to launch 25 years ago with its first Walkman.
The product will be available in Britain before Christmas at 249 pounds ($462.70) and elsewhere in Europe in early 2005 at 369 euros ($489).
The new hard disk player is the successor of Sony’s first hard disk Walkman, which it introduced this summer but which can play back only music compressed with Sony’s proprietary Atrac software. Atrac is the format Sony uses on its Internet music shop Connect, which opened in Europe this summer.
Putting MP3 playback capability in the new Sony Walkman NW-HD3 means consumers can directly import and export tracks in the MP3 format, which is more popular than Atrac.
Sony Europe President Chris Deering said the new Walkman was important to the success of Connect, whose performance to date he described as “not an entrenched recognizable service.”
Sony has sold 340 million Walkman devices over the past 25 years, including models based on compact disks and on minidisks.
Apple’s iPod, the world’s best-selling hard disk portable music player which works with the most popular music store, iTunes, also allows MP3 playback. At Apple’s online music store, however, consumers can buy only in Apple’s own format.
Consumers who buy songs at iTunes Music Store cannot play these back on a Sony Walkman, and Connect customers cannot play back songs on an iPod. Microsoft also uses a proprietary compression format on its Internet music store, open only to consumers who own Windows Media-enabled devices.
Sony’s new 20 gigabyte Walkman is 30 pounds more expensive than Apple’s 20 gigabyte product selling for 219 pounds.
But Sony says the device comes in five colors, plays 2.5 times longer on one battery charge than iPod’s 12 hours and can contain 10,000 to 13,000 songs, at least twice as many as an iPod because of Atrac’s better compression technology.
In standard MP3, there are no differences in storage.
While Apple last month launched the successor of iPod, called iPod photo for additional storage and viewing of picture slides, Sony introduced an MP3-compatible, 1 gigabyte Walkman with Flash memory. Unlike a hard disk, Flash memory has no moving parts but has more limited storage capacity.
Sony President Kunitake Ando said this summer, at the launch of the new Walkman, that he was determined to take the spotlight in the market for portable music players away from iPod.
“I don’t know if we can take this market back in a year ... But this launch is our message that we will work hard to put an end to the dominance by just one company,” Ando then said.