Sony’s New Walkmans Gunning for the iPod

It’s a funny thing: Sony essentially invented the portable music market in the mid-70s with the original Walkman, a headphone-sporting portable cassette player. (Remember cassettes?) Now the portable music market is all about digital music players, and Sony’s been far behind Apple’s popular iPod in every market save Japan, where the company has just barely knocked the iPod shuffle to second place.

But Sony doesn’t plan to stay back on its heels, and is coming after the iPod with two new hard-disk music players and three new flash-based players. And they carry the Walkman name.

The hard-drive based NW-A3000 (20 GB) and NW-A1000 (6 GB) will offer OLED displays which blend well with the surface of the player, making unit seem to not have a screen at all, just helpful text which appears on its surface. And the surfaces: the 20 GB version will be available in purple and silver, while the 6 GB version will be available in pink and blue. The units connect to computers via USB 2.0, and can also charge via USB. The units play back both MP3 and Sony’s proprietary ATRAC3Plus, although industry reports indicate Sony may add WMA playback via a firmware update after the product is released. The 20 GB NW-A3000 will measure 2.5 by 4.1 by 0.85 inches (65 x 104 x 22 mm) and weigh 6.4 ounces (182 g); the smaller 6 GB NW-A1000 with its 1-inch drive will measure 2.16 x 3.47 x .74 inches (55 x 88.1 x 18.7 mm) and weigh 3.8 ounces (109 g). U.S pricing information isn’t available, but reports speculate the units will be priced between $250 and $325.

The new Walkman will all feature an intelligent shuffle feature which automatically selects users’ most-played songs and artists for playback, as well as a "time machine" shuffle which plays tracks released in a particular timeframe. Users can also configure the shuffle to select by genre, year, rating, artist, and other parameters.

The flash-based NW-A608 (2 GB), NW-A607 (1 GB), and NW-A605 (512 MB) resemble nothing so much as perfume bottles with headphones coming out the top—they’re a revision of Sony’s earlier NW-E series of portable players in a variety of iridescent colors including blue, magenta, violet, graphite, and limited edition gold and emerald. The NW-A600 series will feature the same shuffle features as their hard-drive based brethren, and also connect to PCs using USB 2.0. Again, U.S. pricing hasn’t been set but is expected to land between $200 and $275.

Sony also plans to offer a wide range of accessories for the new Walkmans, from carrying cases and headphone extensions to docking platforms and speaker stations.