WEIGHING LITTLE more than a tube of toothpaste and fitting easily inside the palm of the hand, an innocuous British-designed gadget is leading a revolution in the music industry.
The iPod, slickly designed in Apple's trademark style, heralds a new generation of digital music players and is swiftly becoming the consumer phenomenon of the year. Since January, tens of thousands of Britons have bought MP3 players, which enable owners to download tracks from the internet and store them in their pocket.
The trend confirms industry predictions that the days of the humble CD are numbered and that the future (or for many, the present) lies in the online world of digital music.
"The music industry is fragmenting," said Keith Jopling, director of market research at the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry. "Three years ago, there was only really one option for consumers: you would walk into a music shop and buy a CD. Now, within a very short space of time, the digital music industry is growing at a phenomenal rate. Products such as the iPod are revolutionising the music scene and I think they are definitely here to stay."
The most coveted product of all is the iPod. Created by Jonathan Ive, the award-winning British designer, the latest model weighs little more than 170g (6oz), is less than 2.5cm (1in) thick - and can store up to 7,500 songs at a time. Since its British launch seven weeks ago, the product has sold out at many of its 500 stockists across the country.
While figures are unavailable for iPods sold directly by Apple's online store in the UK, more than 1,100 Britons have bought one in the past four weeks in high street stores, according to Chart- Track, the retail analysts. Thousands more have been sold at Apple- approved chains, such as Micro Anvika and John Lewis.
One John Lewis salesman said: "It's the same everywhere at the moment. They sold out very quickly, the whole lot. They are extremely popular."
A salesman at the online Apple Store added: "Demand has been very, very high - more than expected. It's been too high for many of the dealers, so they are hard to get hold of at the …