Veteran consumer electronics giant Sony is beginning to flex its muscles in Japan's music player market.

The company's newest digital music players are now "slicing into the popularity" of Apple's iPod products in Japan. Apple this week confirmed itself to be "disappointed" with its performance in the Japanese market.

Apple still leads the market in Japan for hard drive-based music players, but in the flash-based category, it's a Sony product that leads the pack. The iPod shuffle is second in this category.

Sony as big, bad wolf?

Reuters concedes that reclaiming the portable audio market will be no easy task for Sony, but Macworld has learned the company is already exploring marketing opportunities outside Japan.

Creative Strategies analyst Tim Bajarin defined Sony in this market as potentially more competitive, saying: "It could emerge as a more formidable rival to Apple over the next three years."

Battery life advantage

Sony's flash-based players offer 256MB, 512MB or 1GB capacities - but also offer 50 hours of battery life. The devices also have a display so users can see what they are playing, a feature Apple's flash product lacks.

Citing research from BCN, Reuters explains that Sony's share in the flash based music player market has moved from 4 per cent in March to 27 per cent in May and June.

Bajarin observed his belief that new Sony CEO Howard Stringer is "obsessed with trying to beat Apple".