By Matthew Henry

SYDNEY: SanDisk today announced the launch of the world’s largest capacity flash mp3 player, the Sansa e280, which features 8GB on-board flash and up to 10GB capacity when a 2GB miniSD card is added to the expansion slot.

The e280 will hold around 2,000 songs or 128 hours of mp3 music in its 8GB flash memory chip, and represents a doubling of the current 4GB maximum capacity for flash memory and a serious challenge for hard disk products in the category, such as the conventional iPod.

“SanDisk is once again making it incredibly affordable for consumers to purchase the most feature-rich, high-capacity players on the market at the best possible price,” said SanDisk director – audio/video product marketing, Eric Bone.

“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.”

Pricing for the e280 has not been confirmed, but RRPs for the three other models in the e200 range will be reduced, including the 6GB e270 (now RRP $399), which was formerly the world’s largest capacity flash mp3 player.

The advent of 8GB flash memory chips represents a significant leap forward for flash memory technology in the mp3 market, which has been populated by both flash and hard disk-based players for the past few years.

SanDisk’s e280 is the first of what should be many 8GB flash players to launch before Christmas.

The company’s biggest rival in the flash memory manufacturing business, Samsung Electronics, may beat SanDisk to market with its own 8GB player expected as early as next month.

According to Samsung Electronics Australia marketing manager – AV, Michael Apte, 8GB flash players will be a compelling offering for consumers.

“We’re unlikely to bring out any further hard drive products, because at the end of the day we are the world’s largest manufacturer of flash memory and that gives us significant cost advantages in today’s market,” Apte told last month.

“And of course technology-wise, we have a very strong conviction that the market will move to flash – and not even in a long-term context, it may well be within the next nine months.”

Flash mp3 players use solid state flash memory chips to record data, which makes them more durable, faster and more energy efficient than hard disk mp3 players. While hard disk technology has traditionally maintained a capacity advantage, with 16GB flash mp3 players from Samsung slated for the first quarter of 2007 and 32GB models on the horizon, the market for larger hard disk models may soon start to contract.

Apte believes few people use the full capacity of their 30GB or 60GB mp3 players.

“With 32GB flash chips, once you get the volume up and the costs down the hard drive is living on borrowed time. Even if you think about 8GB, that covers most people’s music collecitons,” he said.

Already, flash memory accounts for 75 per cent of the market in units whereas only 12 months ago the split was much more even. The rapid market shift has been attributed to Apple’s introduction of the iPod Nano, which is currently available with up to 4GB flash memory.