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Sony to offer $60 iPod? Not likely

Apples and oranges

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Sony will take Apple head on next year with the launch of new portable music players that pitch directly against the Mac maker's iPod.

So much the consumer electronics giant admitted at its Transformation 60 conference yesterday. But early reports that it will do so with a $60 device seem highly unlikely, unless Sony has managed to rewrite the rulebook of hard drive economics.

Most coverage of the Sony iPod story follow an initial report from news agency Reuters. It indirectly quotes "Sony executives" saying that the hardware company will "introduce versions of a rival music player to the iPod for as little as $60".

Crucial to what follows is the word "versions". Reuters rightly notes that $60 is "only one quarter or less than the $200-400 Apple charges for the various versions" of the iPod. The implication is that the Sony product will be an iPod at a quarter of the price.

However, Sony hasn't said that its $60 music player will feature a high capacity hard drive as the iPod does - or is as compact as the Apple machine.

Hard drive prices are falling, it's true, but ultra-compact, high capacity models are still pretty expensive, and eat up much of the cost of manufacturing a hard drive-based music player.

We've no doubt that Sony will offer such a device of its own, but the $60 model isn't it. That's less than half the price of a typical 128MB solid-state MP3 player, for heaven's sake.

Sony is no stranger to the mobile digital music market. It has offered Network Walkman products for some time, now. To date, these have been solid-state products, with built in Flash memory expanded by the addition of Memory Stick media. In that regard, the company already competes with Apple's iPod.

While we can imaging Sony expanding its Network Walkman to encompass a high-end hard drive-based product, and a budget-priced solid-state model for $60, we very much doubt it can do so with a single unit. Not unless it plans to offer the product for rather less than it costs the company to make it, and we can't imagine it doing that... ®

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