Sony Corp. said Thursday it will release on July 10 a Walkman portable music player that can store up to 13,000 songs, a move expected to pose a serious challenge to Apple Computer Inc.’s iPod, a dominant leader in the field.

The plan was unveiled on the occasion of the Walkman’s 25th anniversary. The upgraded Walkman is the first to feature a hard-disk drive in its vast lineup, which started as a cassette-tape player and has expanded to include CD, MD and flash memory.

With large storage capacity, a hard-disk drive player allows users to carry around a vast music collection.

Sony said it expects the new player to catch on, as more people download music from the Internet.

The NW-HD1 does not have a list price. The company said it is likely to be sold at around 53,000 yen in Japan. The product will also debut overseas this summer.

The company did not disclose sales targets or production plans.

Currently, the market for portable music players with hard-disk drives is dominated by Apple’s iPod, which has become hugely successful since its launch in 2001.

As of the end of March, Apple had sold some 3 million iPod units worldwide.

Its smaller version, the iPod mini, was released in February and has been so popular in the U.S. that Apple was forced to delay its overseas introduction, including in Japan, due to a supply shortage.

Apple did not identify the supplier of its hard-disk drives, though it is widely known that Toshiba provides them for the iPod, and Hitachi Ltd. for the iPod mini.

Sony said its player boasts a 30-hour battery life, about three times longer than the iPod.

The competition is likely to intensify over this rapidly growing market.

In Japan, Toshiba also recently announced the latest model of its gigabeat digital music player, launching new 5GB, 20GB and 40GB models.

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