Posted by: Kenji Hall on September 16, 2009
Sony added two new models to its Walkman lineup yesterday, as it attempts to lure consumers away from Apple’s iPod and other portable media players ahead of the crucial yearend holiday. CEO and Chairman Howard Stringer was on hand at the Sony building in Tokyo’s Ginza shopping district to reveal a few of the new features. Among them: the gadgets slim profile—7.2 mm thick—and a subscription service for lyrics that scroll on-screen while songs play.
After his brief remarks, Stringer, who rarely attends product launch events, slipped out a door behind the podium. The Walkman product-development team went on to talk about the Walkman’s compatibility with Apple’s iTunes software (only uploaded content, not downloads from the online iTunes Store) and other content-management software, a stunningly clear organic light-emitting diode, or OLED, display and the external noise-cancelling technology. There were also speakers and other accessories.
The Walkman could use a boost. It’s held its own against the iPod and other portable media players in Japan. This fiscal year through March 2010, Sony expects to sell 6.7 million Walkmans, down from 7 million last year (but a slight upward revision from May, when the forecast was 6.3 million). During the week through Aug. 30, the Walkman outsold the iPod in Japan—the first time in four years that’s happened, according to Tokyo-based market researcher BCN. Still, in other markets Sony badly trails Apple.
One area where Sony is improving is in allowing its gizmos to talk to each other. Using a PC is the best way to download audio and video files to and manage content for the Walkman, but it’s not the only way. The new Walkman models can pull songs or videos stored on a PlayStation 3 gaming console, grab videos from Blu-ray DVD recorder or save files from any portable DVD player. “The idea was to make as easy as possible to play digital content from other products on the Walkman so people who have been using other products or don’t own a portable media player would give the Walkman a try,” says Atsushi Noda, a marketing manager in Sony’s Personal AV division.
The product development team also made the Walkman compatible with TVs so that the Walkman’s new lyrics scroll can be viewed on a set. That turns the Walkman into a portable karaoke machine of sorts. It’s a nifty feature, and the company said it will target karaoke-crazed Japanese teens who might spend $170 (8 gigabytes of memory) to $400 (64GB). Still, the lyrics are only available for 75,000 Japanese pop songs, and they’re not free (it costs 10 cents to 20 cents per song, depending on the service). And the Walkmans will only be sold in Japan for now, so Sony fans elsewhere will have to wait.
It’s a different strategy from Apple’s. Last week, Apple showed a new Nano, a portable music and video player whose design resembles the new Walkmans, will come with a built-in video camera and a voice recorder. Sony’s Walkman can record but needs an extra plug-in device to work. Apple also upgraded its iTunes Store. Microsoft’s Zune also now lets users buy or rent videos from the Zune Marketplace.