Sony launched its first MP3-compatible flash memory digital music players under the Walkman name in the latest bid to reclaim the lead in a market it has lost to Apple Computer's iPod.
Promoting the players as sleek alternatives with superior battery life to the Apple (AAPL.O: Quote, Profile, Research) iPod Mini, Sony is targeting music fans who would like to put a lot -- but not all -- of their music collection onto a pocket-sized music device.
Apple itself is rumored to be developing a music device with a removable flash memory drive to tap into a wider market.
Sony's new products, the Walkman NW-E99 and NW-E95, play songs in MP3 format as well as Sony's proprietary ATRAC technology, a move that has generated cheers from Walkman aficionados who have grumbled about the lack of compatibility for years.
In announcing the MP3 strategy shift last month, Sony said it would now be able to tap a larger consumer base.
The NW-E99, which carries a suggested retail price of 240 euros (about $300), is sold with a one-gigabyte flash memory drive while the NW-E95 holds a 512 megabyte flash drive and sells for 200 euros.
The MP3 Walkmans will only be available in Europe. There is no plan at the moment to sell the products in Asia or North America, a Sony Europe spokesman said.
While they are more pricey than the iPod Mini in euro terms and have smaller music storage capacity, the new Walkman devices have 70 hours of battery life and can hold 46 CDs worth of music.
"These products are not necessarily designed for people who want their whole library of music in their pocket, but for those who want to put quite a bit of music in a player that you can wear around your neck," said Sony Europe spokesman Jean-Baptiste Duprieu.
The devices each weigh 40 grams, and are smaller than a credit card and less than one centimeter in width, Sony said.
The launch of more digital music players is a crucial piece of Sony's music-download business as well. Launching earlier this year in the United States and Europe, the Sony Connect download music store also trails market leader Apple iTunes.