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Sony player takes bite out of Apple

Stringer announces new line of digital music players

New Sony chairman-CEO Howard Stringer on Tuesday made his first dent against Steve Jobs with the announcement of a line of digital music players that sent Sony shares up and Apple stock down.

Sony, whose existing Walkman digital music players have had virtually no impact against Apple’s dominant iPod, unveiled nine low-cost players at a corporate event in Las Vegas.

Devices are similar to Apple’s recently released iPod Shuffle in that they use flash memory, which is smaller and cheaper than conventional memory, but stores less music than other players. Sony players cost about the same as Apple’s but boast longer battery life.

Separately, Sony Pictures vice chairman Yair Landau reportedly confirmed Sony’s PSP, a portable version of the PlayStation vidgame console, will synchronize with the company’s Connect online musicstore. PSP is expected to sell well when released in several weeks. It has already sold more than 1 million units in Japan.

Banking on synergy

Connect has made no headway so far against other musicstores, but Sony hopes strong sales for the Walkman flash players and PSP will boost the service just as Apple enjoys synergy between its iTunes and iPod.

Stringer, named Sony topper Monday, has said that creating more synergy between the comglom’s content and electronics businesses is a top priority. Exec is also reportedly mad that Jobs’ company has thus far humiliated Sony in the digital music space, where many analysts thought the Japanese electronics giant would be competitive.

Apple’s dominance is beginning to fade, though, and not just because of Sony’s renewed efforts. Competitor Napster recently raised its revenue guidance for the quarter by $1 million, indicating its portable subscription service is doing well and may pose a threat to iTunes.

Sony’s players previously worked only with its own proprietary music format, but the company has recently opened its devices, including the PSP, to other, more common formats in order to reach a broader audience.

Combined news sent Apple shares down 5% Tuesday to $40.53, while Sony shares closed up 4% at $41.02.

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