The battle for market share in the digital music player industry intensified on Monday with the launch of a rival to Apple Computer’s flash memory-based iPod Nano that has twice the capacity.

SanDisk, the flash memory manufacturer, on Monday unveiled a model with 8GB of storage capacity, enabling it to save up to 2,000 songs – twice the capacity of the best-selling Nano.

According to NPD Group, a market researcher, Apple held 75.6 per cent of the digital music player market in the US in the second quarter, whereas SanDisk hopes to increase its market share from 10 per cent to 30-35 per cent.

The new player, dubbed the Sansa 280, will cost just under $250, the same price as the largest capacity version of the Nano.

“The most costly ingredient in a flash-based MP3 player is the flash memory. Since we make the flash memory, we essentially remove the middleman and pass that saving directly to the consumer,” said Eric Bone, director of audio/video product marketing at SanDisk.

SanDisk, which was founded in 1988 and has grown to become the world’s largest supplier of flash memory data storage products, is a distant second behind Apple in the market for flash memory-based players. Other companies including iRiver, Creative Technologies, Samsung and Toshiba have also sought to challenge Apple’s domination of the digital music player market with players that have additional features, such as FM radios, and are often lower priced.

Microsoft has also announced plans to launch a wireless portable digital media player called Zune later this year together with an integrated online music service designed to rival Apple’s iTunes store.

Last week EMI, the world’s third-largest music company, said it had signed a deal to provide preloaded music videos for the Microsoft player.

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