The global MP3 player market is estimated to reach 286 million units by 2010, and to be dominated by Apple.

New research from In-Stat predicts the market will double in size in the next few years, from 140 million to 286 million.

Market growth is expected to be driven by falling prices, the availability of legitimate digital music service, higher capacity flash memory and new features in music players.

"Apple continues to dominate the market for MP3 players, particularly in the US," says Stephanie Guza, In-Stat analyst. "Apple competitors continue to face significant challenges, such as a constrained flash memory supply, device and software integration, and the 'cool factor' associated with the iPod range."

Recent research by In-Stat found that 49 per cent of existing MP3 player owners own an Apple iPod. They predict that hard drive-based MP3 players will continue their evolution into becoming multimedia entertainment devices capable of audio, video, and image playback.

The analysts also found that flash-based music player sales were strong in 2005, "particularly in Asian markets where some players are priced as low as $25," the analysts said.

The findings are contained in a new $2,995 research report, 'Portable Digital Audio Players: Market Growth Exceeds Expectations'. The report looks at the global market for such devices, drawing its conclusions from a global consumer survey.