Apple’s dominance of the portable music market was unexpectedly challenged today with the release of figures showing that in Japan, iPods are now second in total players sold for the first time in four years. Perhaps even more astonishing was the revelation that the new Japanese market leader was an old, familiar brand by the name of Sony Walkman. Business and tech bloggers were quick to point out that the data doesn’t include sales of the iPhone, the addition of which would have certainly put Apple firmly back in the top spot. While the victory is almost entirely symbolic, it nonetheless provides an important morale boost to Sony as it attempts to make up lost ground in other areas. Commentators have since responded to the victory with a mixture of skepticism, faint praise and advice.

  • As Misleading as it Sounds said Doug Aamouth at Crunch Gear. He mocks the omission of iPhone sales in the results, calling it a given that Sony would win under such a circumstance. “I outsold all Apple products here in the US by selling a pair of pants on eBay last week. Granted, we’re not counting any Apple products as pants.”

  • Quiet Achievement Preethi Dumpala at Silicon Alley Insider notes that the ground Sony gained is more than illusionary. By offering the latest versions of the Walkman at significantly lower prices than the iPod, Sony stuck a chord with recession-weary consumers. 

  • The Walkman IS Better claims a blogger by the name of Ebenezer Scrooge, who even bought one to give to his mother. Both members of the Scrooge family appreciate the device’s simplicity and ease-of-use, ironic considering Apple designs its products to be intiutive. “The Walkman connects easily to both Mac and Windows without any weird dialogs that warn me that it's about to erase everything on the device.

  • Not Enough Volume Bloomberg quotes an expert who says that Sony needs to do much more to reach consumers outside of Japan. Mikhil Huthessing provides an in-depth company profile over at Daily Finance, detailing Sony’s struggles in a variety of its core markets, from videogames to televisions. The company’s consideration of a “hybrid mobile device” that’s “part mobile phone and part video game” also seems to be a transparently obvious attempt to compete with the iPhone, likely an unwinnable battle. 

  • Don’t Forget Apple’s Encore, either, warns Joshua Topolsky of Engadget. Jobs and Co. have a special “rock-and-roll” theme planned for their annual iPod conference scheduled for Sept.9th, which may or may not include a demo of a long-rumored tablet computer...would it too, play music?