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SanDisk unveils 8GB music player

Flash memory maker SanDisk has announced a new MP3 player in its Sansa line and has reduced prices for its players across the board to compete with Apple Computer's flash-based iPod Nano.

Sansa e280

Flash memory maker SanDisk has announced a new MP3 player in its Sansa line and has reduced prices for its players across the board to compete with Apple Computer's flash-based iPod Nano.

SanDisk today announced the Sansa e280, an 8GB digital music device that can be expanded to store 10GB of data with a SanDisk 2GB MicroSD card. While Australian pricing is yet to be released, the e280 is expected to be available here in the fourth quarter of 2006. It is currently being offered for US$249 (equal to about AU$326) in the US.

That marks a significant difference in price-to-storage ratio when compared with Apple's 4GB iPod Nano. That iPod model retails for US$249 (AU$359 in Australia), according to Apple's online store. (There is currently no 8GB or 10GB iPod. Apple's player with the next-highest capacity, the 30GB iPod, runs on a hard drive rather than flash and sells for US$299 in the US and AU$449 in Australia.)

The Sansa players enable people to increase storage capacity and change which songs are kept on the device by inserting different MicroSD cards. SanDisk is a leading manufacturer of flash memory. Its expansion cards currently hold about 500 songs, but greater-capacity cards are planned, according to SanDisk.

While the Sansa line supports Microsoft PlaysForSure and Rhapsody To Go, the device has a non-proprietary digital rights management system and allows any songs in the MP3 and WMA formats to be uploaded to the device.

Other features on SanDisk's MP3 players include a digital FM tuner from which people can record and a built-in microphone that enables the device to act as a voice recorder.

The Sansa's potential success, however, lies not in a feature matchup with the iPod but in SanDisk's strength as a company, according to Ted Schadler, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research.

"(SanDisk) gets memory cheaper than anybody, and they have tremendous distribution reach because they have their SD cards everywhere. Because they have a tremendous retail presence already with their memory cards, they can bring these products to those same retailers and get shelf space. And that's a huge advantage," Schadler said. "Three things make a difference: price, quality of the product--which is steadily getting better--and their reach. SanDisk has all those coming together now."

Because of the strong ecosystem surrounding the iPod, said Schadler, there is no release that is going to make a significant dent in Apple's monstrous share of the MP3 market overnight. As the market matures, things will change, but it will be an uphill battle. Music stores will consolidate their efforts around a small group of manufacturers, and a "two-horse race" will eventually develop. SanDisk is in a good position to possibly be that second horse, but Schadler said the release is a sign of SanDisk's "relentlessness" as a company, not a break in the MP3 player market.

SanDisk, which holds the second-largest market share in digital music players behind Apple, also announced significant price changes on its 2GB, 4GB and 6GB digital music players that undercut their iPod capacity-equivalents.

The 2GB Sansa e250 has been reduced to AU$279 from AU$249, compared with the 2GB iPod Nano's AU$299 price. The 4GB Sansa e260 for AU$299 (originally AU$359) and the 6GB Sansa e270 for AU$399 (originally AU$439) also offer more flash memory for the money than the AU$359 4GB iPod Nano.