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RealNetworks Partners with SanDisk

Seattle – Stepping up the competition in MP3 players yet another notch, RealNetworks said it joined with SanDisk to offer new MP3 players that ship with 32 hours of music preloaded from leading record labels.

    RealNetworks will join with SanDisk to develop the new portable audio players that will work with an updated Rhapsody music service. Whenever a new SanDisk player is synchronized with Rhapsody, the preloaded music will be refreshed with music that the service selects based on the user’s tastes and history of music preferences.

    The preloaded music will include popular artists on EMI, SONYBMG, Universal Music Group and Warner Music Group, and other leading independent labels, thereby offering consumers a simple way to sample new music, said RealNetworks.

“This is the Rolling Stones, Jay-Z; from the major record labels,” explained a RealNetworks spokesman, adding, “Whether it’s country, blues, rap or pop, when you get the device home and synch it with Rhapsody, it will automatically refresh with new music.We’re trying to make music discovery as effortless as possible.”

When asked if the features were aimed to differentiate the Rhapsody subscription music service from Apple iTunes, the RealNetworks spokesman said, “It’s not so much about differentiating ourselves from Apple, as doing something entirely new.”

The first SanDisk players to work with the new Rhapsody capability, called the Rhapsody DNA platform, will be select eSansa 200 series models to be available this fall.

In addition, SanDisk and RealNetworks plan to produce a broad line of portable, mobile and in-home devices that will work with Rhapsody DNA platform.

The first new eSansa models with the 32 hour buffer will include an 8GB Sansa e280 with 2GB of additional music through a microSD card, FM tuner and rechargeable 20-hour lithium-ion battery at $249.

RealNetworks said new in-home streaming music devices from Sonos will also work with the new service. Rhapsody will also continue to support all PlaysForSure devices.

Principal analyst Rob Enderle of the Enderle Group said “In a way, this is doing the Zune one better because RealNetworks is picking the leading vendor competing with Apple and they are really showing the benefits of flat rate subscription.The problem with flat rate is you have access to millions of songs, but how do you manage it?This could be brilliant.This is the way it should be done.”

SanDisk’s media players have tripled in market share recently from 3 to over nine percent recently, making SanDisk the number two MP3 player vendor, to Apple’s formidable 75.6 percent share, according to NPD.

Rhapsody offers unlimited free portable music downloads for $14.99 per month.