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"A piece like this can only enhance the Walkman brand. It's definitely a major step forward for us."
——Sony’s Mitch Li
SLUMPING SONY GOES BACK TO THE FUTURE, REVIVING THE WALKMAN
Cutting-Edge Walkman X Will Do Battle With the Similar iPod Touch
As Sony reported its first annual loss in 14 years and predicted that the hard times would continue into 2010, the company simultaneously unveiled a cutting-edge iteration of an icon from its golden age…(drum roll, please)…the Walkman X.

But first, the bad news: Sales for Sony’s 2009 fiscal year fell 12.9% from a year earlier, to ¥7.73 trillion. The slump deepened in the most recent quarter, falling 22% to ¥1.52 trillion. The company anticipates a net loss of ¥120 billion, or $1.26 billion, in the current fiscal year, which ends next March 31, following a loss of ¥98.9 billion in the year just ended. Sony said it would close three factories in Japan, part of a continuing effort to trim production costs and rebuild a business that has been hammered by dramatic declines in consumer spending worldwide.

While it’s unlikely the Walkman X will lead Sony out of the doldrums—or unseat the iPod, which has become the modern-day equivalent of the first portable music player—initial impressions have been generally positive. In fact, the Walkman X is being compared to the iPod Touch. Like the Apple device, it’s black, streamlined and centered around a large video touch-screen. The X also includes built-in applications, wireless access and Web browsing, a first for the Walkman brand. The pricing is also comparable: $299 for the 16GB version and $399 for 32GB.  

"I can see where the X series Walkman would be seen as the device that can advance the brand as far as the U.S. goes," said Sony Electronics exec Mitch Li in a feature on AdAge.com. But he admitted that if the "niche product," as he called it, does overtake the iPod, he'll be "very pleasantly surprised."

Walkman is meant to present a premium music and video-viewing experience in a niche position rather than trying to be the "jack of all trades" that the iPod is, Li explained. For instance, the Walkman X includes noise-canceling technology and an OLED (organic light-emitting diode) screen, the sharpest and brightest screen technology today, intended to re-create a studio-quality listening and viewing experience. It also includes Wi-Fi for downloads and preloaded YouTube and Slacker radio apps, through Sony has no immediate plans to open an apps store.

"A piece like this can only enhance the Walkman brand," said Li. "It's definitely a major step forward for us."

The iPod controls 71% of the U.S. digital-player market, with Sandisk #2 at 10.5%, Sony third with 2.6% and the Microsoft Zune at 2.1%, according to NPD Group data.

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