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Sony preps 'iPod killer' - again

Buying Apple's just too expensive now, apparently

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Watch out, Apple - Sony is coming after you. But it's the iPod's market share the Japanese giant wants, not the company itself.

Sony president Kunitake Ando today expressed the consumer electronics firm's confidence that by the end of the year it will bring to market a portable digital music player "much more competitive than the iPod".

"We have put in place a very aggressive plan to become number one again," he said, according to newswire reports.

Attributing Apple's success to the iPod's ease of use, Ando noted that to beat the Mac maker at Sony's own game - it created the personal stereo market with the Walkman, after all - the company must "develop software that makes use of our products more intuitive and simple".

That's in addition to embracing standards such as the MP3 digital audio format. It took the company a long time to bring native MP3 support to its digital music players, and it now looks like it's planning to add the format to its MiniDisc product line. Until last Autumn, Sony was wedded to its own ATRAC 3 format( developed for MiniDisc) - unlike many computer users.

But what about that perennial question: might Sony acquire Apple? This has been asked regularly since Apple co-operated with Sony in the design and manufacture of the original PowerBook, the PowerBook 100, and later when Apple ran into money troubles in the mid-1990s.

According to Ando, a takeover is even less likely now than it was then. Quite simply, the success of the iPod has made Apple "too expensive", he said.

Co-operation between the two companies may be in the offing - quite apart from the fact they're both being sued by a French consumer group. IBM and Sony's PowerPC-derived Cell processor is a possible candidate for upcoming Apple AV products, Merrill Lynch analyst Steven Milunovich said this week. ®

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