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

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

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

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

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

Sony sold 4.5 million digital music players in the year ended March 2006, and expects this to rise to 5.5 million in the current year, the company said yesterday 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.