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RealNetworks loads up SanDisk media players

Starting with Sansa e200 gadgets, Real counts on consumers wanting to take "music library" from one device to another.

Some new SanDisk media players will come preloaded with music and software from RealNetworks, the companies said Monday.

The Sansa e200 series media devices, available this fall, will come loaded with 32 hours of mainstream popular music from RealNetworks' Rhapsody. Subscribers to the Rhapsody To Go service, which costs $14.99 a month, can then change the library to include artists, albums and songs of their choice. They can also leave part of the library open to selections made by Rhapsody based on users' "historic music preferences," said RealNetworks spokesman Matt Graves. Consumers also have the option to purchase music for download.

Sansa media player

RealNetworks calls the software platform Rhapsody DNA because the company has , or APIs, and is providing other technology to enable portable and in-home device makers to tie in to the Rhapsody service, Graves said.

"The first partner to use Rhapsody is SanDisk, but our long-term vision is to make this accessible broadly," Graves said.

Most of SanDisk's Sansa media players have a memory card slot that allows users to add up to 2GB of memory to each device to supplement a core library on the device's internal memory.

While SanDisk is the only device manufacturer so far that has partnered with RealNetworks, Rhapsody DNA is compatible with any , Graves said. Should other manufacturers choose to adopt the platform, listeners will be able to travel with their library from one device to another.

Combining SanDisk's access to cheap smart memory and distributors, and RealNetworks' subscription service model is a good move, said Ted Schadler, vice president and analyst from Forrester Research.

"SanDisk has this wonderful retail reach, because they have retail distribution channels locked up with their memory cards...Not only is it brilliant strategy, because they already have memory--which is one of the costliest things in producing a media device--but it's smart memory. You can charge more for smart memory. SanDisk understands that an iPod Shuffle is nothing more than smart memory with some software," Schadler said.

RealNetworks is hoping that the ability to take a "music library" from one device to the next may be the key to toppling Apple Computer's stronghold on the media player market. Currently, Apple's proprietary DRM software does not allow purchased downloaded music to be transferred to devices other than iPods. Korea's Samsung Electronics is also developing a similar strategy with MusicNet, a New York-based service that offers both subscription and download options.

RealNetworks may also face new competition from Microsoft, which last week unveiled a music store along with its Zune player. Prior to this, Microsoft had been encouraging other manufacturers to create a compatible Windows Media Audio format under Microsoft's PlaysForSure brand. While Rhapsody DNA is technically compatible with PlaysForSure devices, Microsoft has given no indication that Zune is PlaysForSure compatible.

Rhapsody To Go offers music from Sony BMG Music, EMI, Universal Music Group, Warner Music Group and several independent labels.