iPod Wars: Attack of the Clones

These days, it seems every time you turn around, there's another company taking some desperate measure to try to wrestle Apple Computer's (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) first-mover advantage in digital music. Is Apple about to get sauced?

This week, two formidable rivals, technology giant and Motley Fool Stock Advisor pick Dell (Nasdaq: DELL  ) and gadget maker and Walkman inventor Sony (NYSE: SNE  ) , joined the fray, finding new ways to pick on the iPod.

Today, Sony announced the launch of a Walkman music player, NW-HD1, that packs a 20-gigabyte hard drive and a mere four-ounce weight. Its claim to fame is holding 13,000 songs, more than the 10,000 songs that can be stored on a 40-gigabyte iPod. In mid-August, those without iPod mania will be able to purchase an NW-HD1 for $400. It also boasts 30 hours of battery life.

Just days ago, Dell dealt an even lower blow. It said it would offer a $100 rebate to those who turn in their iPods. That rebate will apply toward their brand-new Dell Digital Jukebox, or DJ, music player, which will then be available for $99. Talk about getting down and dirty.

And, of course, Roxio's (Nasdaq: ROXI  ) Napster recently offered up free MP3 players in exchange for a long-term commitment to its own service.

Lots of people are probably wondering if Apple is about to get trumped by rivals over pocket change. Of course, Sony's increased storage and battery power do hit Apple where it hurts.

However, we've always known iPods were "expensive" -- buyers didn't blink an eye. Meanwhile, the gadget has become so wildly popular that a stealth industry has developed. You can outfit your iPods with Prada and Gucci cases, among other things. Apple recently provided adapters to allow for iPod playing in BMWs (including, of course, the aptly named Mini Cooper).

In computers, Apple's past strength has been elegance, form, and functionality that commanded loyalty from a small but fierce customer base. After all, many will argue that Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT  ) just copied and commoditized features that Apple's operating system did first and did better.

Sure, the same thing could happen to the iPod. However, the iPod and iPod Mini have already garnered more mainstream popularity than Mac ever did; nearly 3 million of the devices have been sold since the 2001 launch, when it was still just a budding industry. What with Apple's first-mover advantage and its history of fostering rabid addiction to its products, I'd like to bet that the iPod will fend off much of the rivalry for a long time to come.

More recent coverage of Apple includes the company's European adventures. Check these out for more:

Fools are talking about these issues and more on the Apple discussion board. Add your two cents.

Alyce Lomax does not own shares of any of the companies mentioned, though she is a Mac loyalist.

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