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Walkman to stage a comeback with Android?

Sony might be bringing Google's mobile operating system to its Sony Walkman music players. But is it really capable of capturing more market share by using Android?

Sony Walkman
The Sony Walkman X-Series.

Remember the Sony Walkman? It was, at one time, the iPod of its day. No other portable media player was capable of competing against the Walkman. Everyone wanted to get their hands on Sony's stellar device. And every year, when Sony would tweak it just a little bit, we all jumped at the chance to buy the latest and greatest Walkman.

But today, the Walkman is just an also-ran. Apple's iPod is dominating the business. With a firm grip on the market, there's currently no sign that Apple will be relinquishing its lead in the PMP space anytime soon. But Sony hasn't given up.

According to Engadget, the Japanese electronics powerhouse is planning to release an Android-based Walkman next year.

It makes sense. Rumors have been swirling since 2008 that its Sony Ericsson joint venture would be releasing an Android-based handset. Why wouldn't Sony also consider Google's mobile operating system for the Walkman?

Last month, Sony CEO Howard Stringer gave further indication that Sony is looking to software like Android to appeal to consumers. After saying his company would use more open standards in the future, Stringer told Nikkei Electronics Asia that "Sony has begun the transition from a closed system to an open one." Stringer also told the publication that if Sony "had gone with open technology from the start, I think we probably would have beaten Apple."

That's a lofty statement from a company that hasn't done much to beat Apple.

The iPod Touch and Zune HD both sport an operating system that makes them capable of extending the functionality of the device beyond playing media. Users can surf the Web, play games, and in the iPod Touch's case, download a variety of applications.

A Walkman with Android installed wouldn't be so different. The mobile operating system works with touch screens. The Android Marketplace makes adding applications to a device simple. And as long as Sony doesn't remove some of its better features, the Walkman's Android installation should also have Google Maps and a browser. It would be able to compete with the iPod Touch and the Zune HD.

Android, at least in my experience, is not as dynamic as the iPhone OS. But its open-source nature gives the vendor--in this case, Sony--the opportunity to do what it wants with the software.

Sony still needs to figure out how to create an iTunes-like experience. Now that iTunes has DRM-free music, users can download songs from Apple's store and add them to their Walkmans, but that's not nearly as convenient as downloading songs directly from a Walkman would be.

Another hurdle for Sony: while many people still know the Walkman, that name doesn't engender the kind of clout it once did. How many folks really know that Sony recently released the Walkman X-Series, which takes aim at the iPod Touch? The iPod is the thought leader in the music space, and there isn't much chance of that changing anytime soon.

Even with Android installed, the Walkman would likely be inferior to the iPod Touch. Sony has its work cut out for it, but it feels the call to try, and installing Android would likely be its best offensive against Apple on the PMP front yet.

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