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Sony retuning to pick up MP3s

Hammered by iPod, Sony will retool, adding native MP3 support to some digital music players by next summer.

SAN FRANCISCO--Sony Electronics missed an opportunity when it nodded off with the emergence of digital audio players, but it hopes to right its wrongs to better compete with rivals such as Apple Computer.

Sony executives met with reporters Wednesday, discussing the support of the MP3 format in Sony devices, their intensions to beat Apple in the digital audio player market and the upcoming holiday season.

As previously reported, Sony flash-based digital audio players will support the MP3 file format by the middle of next year, the executives said. The company also is considering the use of other formats in its devices, according to Stan Glasgow, president of Sony Electronics 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, according to Glasgow who declined to comment on the details of the changes.

"We fell asleep for a little while, now we're awake," Glasgow said. "Our performance has been less than good. We've been late to market. Maybe we were resting on our laurels, maybe it had something to do with being related to a music company."

Sony has historically been a leader in the portable device market, thanks to its Walkman line of tape players. However, the company missed the boat with digital audio players, insisting on supporting its own Atrac music format and not natively supporting MP3 files on its players--instead converting them to the proprietary format. The move cost it. Apple struck gold with its iPod players, developing an easy-to-use music service and natively supporting MP3 files on its devices. The Mac maker shipped about 2 million players in its latest quarter, a 500 percent increase from the same period a year ago.

"Apple did a great job with this product," said Hideki Komiyama, president of Sony Electronics. "But this game has just started?It's the first inning of a nine-inning game, and in the end we are confident we will win."

Sony Electronics is looking to be more open in its support of technologies, formats and standards as it tries to participate in the nurturing of the networked device world where different types of consumer products can play back digital content sent over wired and wireless networks.

Sony has been a key contributor to industry groups such as the Digital Living Network Alliance, whose mission is to develop guidelines allowing all types of consumer devices from different manufacturers to share content over networks.