Dell launches flash-based music player

/ Source: The Associated Press

Dell Inc., the world's largest direct computer seller, on Tuesday launched a new flash-memory digital music player designed to compete with the iPod Shuffle.

Dell billed its DJ Ditty as a better value than the Shuffle. Both devices are $99 and come equipped with 512 megabytes of memory, but because the Ditty uses an audio format that compresses digital music files more efficiently, Dell asserts the Ditty can hold up to 220 songs while the same-sized Shuffle stores about 120.

The biggest difference between the devices is the Ditty's 1-inch LCD display screen, which helps users navigate their music lists. In addition, the Ditty can receive FM radio.

Like many electronics companies, Dell is trying to chip away at Apple Computer Inc.'s enormous lead in the digital-music player market. For every 10 digital music players bought in the U.S., seven are iPods.

The Shuffle — Apple's least expensive model — is likely the most vulnerable of any of the iPod products to competitive pressure, says Nitin Gupta, analyst with Yankee Group.

"This is some low-hanging fruit," Gupta said. "Apple tried to sell the lack of a screen as a feature with the Shuffle, so the Shuffle is easy to compete against. But you have to look at the whole environment. Apple's iPods are doing fabulous and their online music store, iTunes, is No. 1. Dell's device won't be able to download from iTunes and that's going to hurt."

DJ Ditty will, however, work with other music-download sites, such as Yahoo and Napster.

While competitors are trying to figure out how to take on iPod's older models, Apple continues to release new ones. Earlier this month, Cupertino, Calif.-based Apple released the $249 iPod Nano, a pencil-thin 4-gigabyte flash player that is smaller than most digital-music players but can store up to 1,000 songs.