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Home > Business > Special

Can Sony take on Apple iPod?

Priyanka Joshi | May 08, 2006

Phones are for music, period. The message is beginning to rock, courtesy Sony Ericsson. This mobile handset manufacturer has launched desk stand speakers (also called "docking stations") for its hot new Walkman range of phones.

Having added three products - the W810i, W700i and W300i - to its offer kitty, Sony Ericsson has just taken its musical journey several notches ahead in India.

According to Sudhin Mathur, general manager, India branch, Sony Ericsson, the new additions will "help breed a concept of music-on-the-go".

Its docking stations, priced between Rs 1,595 and Rs 11,995 and available at all outlets of Sony Ericsson, work well with the Engaging Mega Bass technology that promises to improve the sound experience while listening through the external speaker or stereo headphones.

It's convenient too, according to Mathur. The idea, he says, is to let people listen to music as they would from a regular music source "without requiring them to transfer files or build duplicate collections."

The broader idea, perhaps, is to catch the Apple iPod wave that's rippling its way across urban India. Docking station model MDS 70, for example, seems designed along the lines of iPod, though the latter costs and does much more.

Now, Sony Walkman - once considered a marketing wonder - is the brand that has been hit the hardest by Apple iPod. And the Sony music association remains strong in markets such as India. Can the Ericsson-allied phone route help the brand tackle Apple's advance into "sonic" territory?

Sony Ericsson is sure trying hard. Its boombox accessories, MDS-60 and MPS-60, for example, are portable speakers that promise a sound performance similar to a fully-loaded hi-fi system. Sound quality seems to be the brand's selling point.

There are signs of success in the international arena already. Music phones now account for a fifth of the London-based firm's revenues. The strategy, says Mathur, is to "get going after the higher-end market in order to secure profitable growth".

Sony Ericsson will add several business and camera phones to its portfolio soon.

But are executives over at Apple's headquarters in Cupertino, California, losing sleep over Sony Ericsson's Walkman phones and accessories? Not yet, by the sound of things.

While music phones are gaining traction rapidly, they are yet to match the appeal of an iPod. It's the original Internet music-download device, and has strong brand associations that grants it premium space.

Musical phone makers, however, are hoping that Apple takes its eyes off the ball the way it did in the market for personal computers, which would let them command the bulk of a rapidly expanding market - through lower pricing.

Moreover, people already have phones, and musical functions are a logical extension; just the convenience has to click. If Sony Ericsson can be believed, the W800i and W550i have been a "thorny issue" for its rivals.

Mathur is confident of numbers. Last year Sony Ericsson sold three million Walkman phones. Docking stations, he hopes, will boost sales this year.

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