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Friday, October 01, 2004, 01:00 pm PT (04:00 pm ET)

Apple to introduce flash-based music player?

Apple may be on the verge of introducing low-cost iPods that are based around flash memory rather than hard drives.

According to CBS Marketwatch, analyst firm Thomas Weisel has issued a research note, saying it thinks Apple Computer has plans to launch a flash memory-based MP3 player in time for Christmas and that its checks indicate that a company called SigmaTel will provide the controller chips for the player.

Unlike Apple's hugely popular iPod and iPod Mini players, the purported player would use solid-state flash memory, which will hold fewer tunes but make for a lighter, cheaper player.

The firm estimates a deal with Apple would generate between $2 million and $4 million for SigmaTel in its first full quarter. Earlier today, SigmaTel also announced a supplier pact with Rio, which produces a competitive player to the Apple iPod.

SigmaTel's D-Major portable audio system-on-a-chip (SoC) currently ranks atop the flash-based MP3 player market segment with over nine million units shipped last year. The chipmaker claims battery life in excess of 50 hours with high-speed USB 2.0 capability.

Apple CEO Steve Jobs has stated that he believes the cost of Apple's iPod remains too high for the average consumer. During an exclusive interview at June's Wall Street Journal's D: All Things Digital conference, Jobs said Apple was working very hard at reducing the price of the iPod. When asked when to expected a price-drop, Jobs just smiled.