CUPERTINO, Calif., Oct. 23— Apple Computer introduced a portable music player today and declared that the new gadget, called the iPod, was so much easier to use that it would broaden a nascent market in the way the Macintosh once helped make the personal computer accessible to a more general audience.
But while industry analysts said the device appeared to be as consumer friendly as the company said it was, they also pointed to its relatively limited potential audience, around seven million owners of the latest Macintosh computers. Apple said it had not yet decided whether to introduce a version of the music player for computers with the Windows operating system, which is used by more than 90 percent of personal computer users.
”It’s a nice feature for Macintosh users,” said P. J. McNealy, a senior analyst for Gartner G2, an e-commerce research group. ”But to the rest of the Windows world, it doesn’t make any difference.”
Steven P. Jobs, Apple’s chief executive, disputed the concern that the market was limited, and said the company might have trouble meeting holiday demand. He predicted that the improvement in technology he said the iPod represented would inspire consumers to buy Macintosh computers so they could use an iPod.
There are several categories of digital music devices, including players that use flash memory, which are small but expensive. Another competing player relies on magnetic hard drives, which are typically larger in both capacity and size, and thus are enclosed in larger gadgets. The market for all such devices is growing and is expected to be around 18 million units by 2005, according to IDC, a market research firm.
The iPod, which will sell for $399 when it becomes available on Nov. 10, is something of a hybrid of existing products. At 4 inches by just under 2.5 inches and just over three-quarters of an inch thick, it is as small as flash players, but it has a 5-gigabyte hard drive, large enough to store 1,000 songs.
Among the features being promoted, the device uses an Apple technology called Firewire to permit songs to be transferred from a computer onto the gadget at a rate of around 1 second a song, substantially faster than other portable players, the company said.
Mr. Jobs said other major advances were its ease of use and a rechargeable lithium battery that runs for 10 hours, making it the most sophisticated battery in any Apple computer or device.
But just how easy MP3 players are to use is a matter of some concern to the record industry. The industry has expressed concern that songs encoded in the MP3 format — a popular digital format into which songs can be converted and stored — can be easily pirated or traded freely, as on services like Napster.
Mr. Jobs said the company had taken some steps to protect against piracy in its device. For instance, he said, songs loaded onto the iPod from a Macintosh computer, cannot then be loaded from the device to a different Macintosh computer, a step he said would make it difficult for people to distribute music they own to other users.
The Recording Industry Association of America, which represents the major record labels, declined to comment on the iPod.
Susan Kevorkian, a digital music industry analyst with IDC, praised the new iPod design, saying the combination of its ease of use, portability and big storage space would influence competitors. ”This raises the bar,” she said.