Sony is preparing to take another swing at Apple's iPod digital music player, a top Sony executive said Friday.

The company is developing a new music player that will go on sale in the US and other markets over the next year, alongside a companion download service and software, said Takao Yuhara, senior vice president of Sony, at a briefing with reporters in Tokyo.

The player will be "typically Sony," he said, drawing on the company's strength in areas like design and long battery life.

Apple has a commanding lead in the music player market and is particularly strong in the US, where it's estimated to command more than 80 per cent share. Sony has tried to unseat Apple in that market before with little success, and its recently launched A-series Walkman digital music players are on sale only in Japan and Europe.

The new player will be launched within the current fiscal year, which ends in March 2007, Yuhara said. He wouldn't be more specific, but acknowledged that the holiday sales period between the US Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays is an important time for consumer electronics products.

Sony sold 4.5 million digital music players in the year to March, and expects this to rise to 5.5 million in the current year, the company said Thursday when it announced its financial results. In contrast, Apple shipped 8.5 million iPods in the first three months of this year alone, it said earlier this month.

Sales of all audio products at Sony fell 6.2 per cent in the last year, to ¥536.5 billion. Operating profit at the division was ¥2.7 billion, against a loss of ¥2.4 billion in the year earlier.