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iPod owners are not necessarily as loyal to the brand as traditional Mac fans are, says ABI research, which conducted a survey in the US recently. The survey found almost 60 percent of iPod owners looking to buy another MP3 player soon, would choose Microsoft’s Zune player over any other brand, including an iPod.

ABI surveyed 1725 teenage and adult US residents, asking whether they planned to buy an MP3 player in the next 12 months. Of those responding that they were likely to do so, 58% of those identifying themselves as existing iPod owners and 59% of those who owned other brands said they would be “somewhat likely” or “extremely likely” to choose a Microsoft Zune player over an iPod or another brand of MP3 player.

“Our conclusion,” says principal analyst Steve Wilson, “is that iPod users don’t display the same passionate loyalty to iPods that Macintosh users have historically shown for their Apple products.” Only 15% of iPod owners said they were “not very likely” or “not at all likely” to choose Zune.

ABI Research believes that if the Zune is to build up the huge following iPod has managed, it will need to differentiate the Zune from competing products in some meaningful way. One differentiator, Zune’s Wi-Fi peer-to-peer sharing, which Microsoft is playing up heavily, “isn’t all that compelling, at least not now,” notes Wilson. “There’s a lot more you could do with that capability.”

But given the results of the survey, ABI says Apple will need to make some big announcements in 2007 if it is to maintain its edge in the industry. “Apple needs a new high-end device that works really well and looks really cool, because other brands are catching up,” Wilson said.

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