updated 08:55 am EDT, Thu September 3, 2009
First time Sony leads in four years
Sony's Walkman players overtook Apple's iPods in market share for the first time in Japan in over four years, according to a study by BCN. Although Apple held the lead as recently as a month ago, a sudden surge in the Walkman's popularity and a corresponding drop in the iPod's has led to Sony just edging out Apple with 43 percent of the market versus 42.1 percent. The upset ends an unprecedented 241-week run for Apple, which took the top spot from Sony in early 2005.
The lead comes through sheer volume rather than rankings on the chart. In results for late August, Apple's 8GB iPod nano remained the absolute leader by a wide margin with 21.7 percent of the entire field compared to the second place Walkman NW-E042, a simple stick-shaped player that had just 6.2 percent of the market. However, six out the top ten media players sold in Japan at the end of last month were Sony devices, four of which were direct iPod nano competitors like the Walkman S730.
Apple occupied all the remaining spots in the chart with the 16GB iPod nano, iPod classic and third-generation iPod shuffle taking fourth, fifth and tenth places respectively. Unlike in North America, the iPod touch failed to make the top ranks.
BCN credits the switch to a combination of factors. Sony's line emphasizes more budget players, and the average price of a Walkman in Japan has dropped the equivalent of about $13 in the past three months to $137 where Apple's has been nearly flat and currently sits at $197. Also, it's suspected that many Japanese who had been buying iPods have since switched to buying iPhones. The iPhone 3GS in particular may be contributing to Apple's decline in the media player market as it outsold Japanese phones in July alone, likely leading some to pick the one device instead of buying an iPod along with another phone.
Researchers also suspect that Sony's lead may be the temporary effect of product launch schedules. Apple's looming September 9th music event is likely to involve a near-complete overhaul of the iPod lineup and may spark renewed interest that puts their creator back in the lead, although BCN still believes Apple will have a harder time maintaining share than it has in the past.
Apple has recently acknowledged that it sees the portable media player market dropping as a whole due to the shift towards media-friendly cellphones like the iPhone. In the US, though, the company has lately been outpacing estimates that had assumed this logical decline and the economy would lead to sharply reduced iPod sales.
Media player share in Japan; Apple in red, Sony in blue
Market share by model (translated)