Sony is Dusting Off the Walkman

Hans Dekker

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Sony is dusting off the name “Walkman" to compete with Apple’s iPod. The Japanese are building on their own music experience to capitalize on the popularity of the smaller MP3 player.

In the eighties and nineties the Sony Walkmans and Discmans were a part of everyday life. But these days the MP3 player has market dominance and the Japanese company has faded. Apple and its iPod is now number one.

Just last week both companies introduced new MP3 players which will be in direct competition with each other. Sony introduced two players under the name "The New Walkman", while Apple released the iPod Nano.

Sony is using the name “Walkman" in the hope that 26 years after the first introduction of the famous cassette player that name still has competitive value. However, we must conclude that however great Sony’s past accomplishments they have missed the boat in the MP3 revolution in a major way. The main cause for Sony’s failure is their stubborn refusal to give up the Attrac3 music format. While the whole world was exchanging MP3 files it was only last year that Sony introduced players that can handle this format.

By that time Apple was just releasing its seventh generation of iPod-type players.

Sony now markets the NWA-1000 and NWA-3000. These music players can directly communicate with the Sony music store “Connect". It is also possible to copy files from the computer directly to the players.

Sony is well known for their activity in the music and film business. They must use their position in this field to regain market share and prestige in this interconnected industry. Interconnected because it seems that it is both Sony’s and Apple’s strategy to heavily interconnect music player, software and music store. Apple’s iTunes was the first Internet music store offered large-scale legal downloads of MP3 files.

Sony won’t give us any figures about their sales and market share. Steve Jobs (CEO of Apple) has no problem with figures. Perhaps the major reason for this is how good they are. Apple claims about half a billion downloads in a heavily growing market.

The iTunes store is heavily focused on its cooperation with the iPod. This player is definitely the market leader among the more expensive MP3 players which have their own hard disk. In the cheaper segment, MP3 players with the so called flash memory, the leaders are Creative, LG and iRiver. The iPod Shuffle with its flash memory couldn’t do much about that. The negative sentiment about the shuffle was mainly due to its lack of an LCD screen and relatively high price.

With the iPod Nano Steve Jobs’ Apple has a twofold challenge on its hands. Firstly there is the above-mentioned competition with Sony. Secondly, the new Apple player has a storage space of 4Gb of flash memory and no hard disk.

The iPod Nano is the successor to the iPod Mini. Apple is constantly reducing the physical size and the prize of their players. Their strategy seems to be to concentrate on iTunes as their major profit producer.

There is an interesting time ahead of us - we will see heavy competition between Apple and Sony both in the interconnected markets of the MP3 players and their respective music stores.

Who will win? I don’t know, but one thing I do know is that Apple was almost broke at the end of the last century. It has been under the leadership of Steve Jobs that Apple made an almost miraculous comeback as a major player on the global market of mini-electronics.

Hans is an audio enthusiast and author of Audio, Personal Audio, MP3 and Streaming Howto's at

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