Virgin Shoulders into iPod’s Terrain

The MP3 player market, where the iPod Mini once stood alone, will soon have several new entries. IDC predicted last month that the segment will grow from 12.5 million units sold last year to more than 50 million units in 2008.

Virgin Electronics’ 5 GB Player, the Creative Zen Micro and the Dell Pocket DJ5 will all crowd into the Mini’s market.

But analysts say that Apple has little to worry about because these players are likely to take sales away from lower-capacity flash memory players and bring new buyers into the market.

Virgin Entry

The 5 GB Virgin Player, launched today, is five ounces lighter than the iPod Mini and can store 1,200 MP3 (2,400 WMA) songs or 80 CDs, the company said.

Virgin integrated an FM tuner with eight presets and dual headphone jacks into the design.

It’s battery life (eight hours) and retail price ($249) both match the Mini’s.

Rumored Release

There are also reports of the impending release of Creative’s Zen Micro, which is almost exactly the same size as the iPod Mini. According to Gizmodo, Creative has confirmed it will be announcing the product within a few weeks.

The Zen Micro is expected to have 12-hour battery life, an FM tuner, and a retail price of $199.

Apple Sitting Pretty

“Clearly these players have taken [market] share and mind share away from the flash players,” Stephen Baker, director of industry analysis for the NPD Group, told TechNewsWorld. “The products offer enough capacity for a casual user to bring most of the music they’re interested in with them.”

Baker said that Apple had already “smartly recognized that capacity constraints in the flash market made a lot of people unhappy.” In this growing market, he said, Apple will not lose in number of sales although these other players will take some of its market share.

“This is where it’s going to get very interesting for Apple in the sense that they have an opportunity to compete,” Michael Gartenberg, research director at Jupiter Media, told TechNewsWorld. He said that the iPod’s status as a cultural icon will help it maintain its place, but that he wouldn’t be surprised to see Apple use the competition as impetus to release more feature-rich iPods.

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