Virgin Unveils Super-Small MP3 Player; Goes After iPod mini

Virgin Electronics announced Tuesday its own portable digital music player weighing less than the Apple iPod mini with an additional 1 gigabyte of storage space. The player will retail for US$249 - the same price as the mini - and be available at the end of October.

The Player 5GB (see photo below) has five gigabytes of hard drive space storing over 1,200 songs, the company said. It is lighter than a mini at 3.1 ounces versus 3.6 ounces and roughly the same physical size.

It also includes an FM tuner with eight presets, dual headphone jacks, eight-hour Lithium battery, and a USB 2.0 port. The display is a 96 x 80 pixel blue-backlit unit. According to Virgin, the player contains 32 megabytes of RAM for 25 minutes of anti-skip protection.

The Virgin player uses Microsoftis Windows Media 10is iJanusi DRM technology to compress and protect song files from copying. As a result, Mac users will not be able to use it on their computer. The device also plays standard MP3 files as well.

Interestingly, the Virgin Player uses PortalPlayeris 5020 core technology. PortalPlayer makes similiar chips for the Apple iPod. The hard drive is Seagate Technologyis new one-inch ST1 drive.

Virgin going after Apple market share

In an interview with the Associated Press, Greg Woock, chief executive of Virgin Electronics said his companyis new device will be a winner with customers and will erode Appleis market share.

"No one else has the same sort of brand energy that Apple or Virgin has. Plus, our heritage is music," he said. "Apple is dominating, yes, but the market share that it has today is not going to last."

Virgin will have a tough time biting off a large chunk of Appleis market share anytime soon. Based on new numbers reported Tuesday by The Mac Observer, Appleis iPod and iPod mini controlled a whopping 92% market share of actual units shipped in August, compared to Rio with 2.5% and Creative Technology at 2.3%. According to the market research firm NPG Group, Apple controlled the same sector by 52.6% a year ago. Itis closets competitor then was Rio with 7.8%.