As sales approach 100 million, Apple may have plans to open up its iPod/iTunes ecosystem to help stave off market saturation.

A report claims the company plans to open up its digital rights management system, FairPlay, to other manufacturers.

If Apple does take this step, it means that in future certain software and hardware add-ons will be able to handle songs acquired through the iTunes Store.

For example, devices that stream music across the home will be able to play such songs, which at present they do not. It also means music analysis software, such as BeaTunes or Tangerine, will be able to anayse iTunes-purchased songs.

Two strands to the news are anticipated: that Apple wil license FairPlay to peripherals vendors with 'Made for iPod' status, and that the company will permit such tracks to be "streamed over USB".

The announcement of loosened-restriction on FairPlay is theoretically expected this week, but this may emerge as being a private announcement to developers that Apple is happy to work with.

It's worth reflecting Apple's move to loosen the DRM comes as major labels begin to consider taking the step of licensing their music catalogues to vendors offering tracks in unprotected MP3 formats.

Meanwhile Apple faces US and European demands to loosen up its DRM in order that songs acquired through iTunes will play on any device.

Critics say Apple wants to keep people locked into its iPod/iTunes combination, but with almost 100 million iPods now sold, it's not clear if the company gains great advantage from this, as it's already the dominant market player in both downloads and devices.