• The Associated Press

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Sony Corp. has vowed to fight iPod’s domination in portable digital music players by featuring superior sound quality and simple music downloads that won’t require a computer.

The latest upgrades of Walkman digital music players and an Internet-linking audio console called NetJuke are aimed at raising market share first in Japan, Hiroshi Yoshioka, a Sony executive overseeing the audio equipment business, said last week.

The marketing blitz set to start Saturday will highlight the electronics and entertainment company’s sound technology and expertise in household appliances that it hopes may counter Apple Computer Inc.’s weaknesses in those areas, he said.

“In one sense, the products are competing against the iPod, but in another sense they are more about Sony’s strengths,” Yoshioka said.

Since going on sale in 2001, NetJuke, which connects to a Japanese music download site similar to Apple’s iTunes, has been sold only in Japan. It won’t be offered overseas this year but may be sold later, according to Sony.

The latest models, with 80-gigabyte and 250-gigabyte hard drives, feature a simplified connection to the Walkman. Priced from 65,000 yen to 100,000 yen, they also have software that groups stored tunes by analyzing notes and rhythms to suit listeners’ moods.

Some of the latest Walkman models can erase surrounding noise to deliver superior sound, while another is waterproof for use while exercising. They will all be sold abroad.

Sony officials acknowledged they have fought a losing battle with the iPod, not only in overseas markets but also in Japan.

The iPod commands top market share here, with some research putting its share at about half or higher. Sony has only recently pushed its market share in Japan to about 20 percent, company officials said.

Sony, which has been pursuing a turnaround for more than a year, has recently succeeded in boosting global market share in flat-panel TVs, where it had also fallen behind rivals.

To catch up in music players, Sony needs to appeal to people who don’t use personal computers to download and store music, marketing executive Kiyoshi Shikano said.

Sony has signed British rock group Oasis to appear in advertising to appeal to an older crowd, he said.

Shikano acknowledged that the heyday of CD and MD players, which Sony long dominated, is over. Shipments of digital music players in Japan have tripled from 1.9 million in 2004 to 6.1 million.

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