Sony launches music players with MP3 support

The company's first digital audio players to support MP3 files have been released in Europe, marking a big change in strategy.

Sony has released the first of its digital audio players to support the popular MP3 format, marking a significant shift in its music strategy.

As expected, the company announced the release in Europe of two flash-memory-based devices, the Walkman NW-E99 and NW-E95, which can natively play songs in MP3 and Sony's own Atrac file format. The move, discussed by the company on Monday, diverges from its previous position of not supporting MP3 because of its lack of security measures and susceptibility to easy file sharing.

However, the company has been suffering for that stance, losing valuable market share to Apple Computer, with its hard-drive-based device, the iPod. Sony has historically been a leader in the portable device market, thanks to its Walkman line of tape players. But the company missed the boat with digital audio players, insisting that device owners convert MP3s to the proprietary Sony format.

Sony says it is looking to be more open in its support of technologies, formats and standards. The company hopes to nurture the developing world of networked devices, in which different consumer products can play digital content sent over wired and wireless networks.

The company also is considering the use of other formats in its devices, according to Stan Glasgow, the company's president of consumer and commercial sales. The look and feel of the software used with its devices and its music download service, Sony Connect, also will undergo major improvements.

Sony announced last week the $180 water-resistant S2 Sports Network Walkman Player, which will be available at the end of the month in the United States. The device will come with file manager software, allowing direct transfer of MP3 files to the device.

The $300 NW-E99 and the $255 NW-E95 also come with the file manager software, according to Sony representatives. The NW-E99 comes with 1GB of flash memory and the NW-E95 comes with 512MB of flash memory. The company has not announced plans to bring those devices to North America.

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