The small size of flash memory cards belies their impact on the IT marketplace as the race to establish an industry standard hots up.
While Sony has begun targeting electronic companies in Taiwan to garner acceptance of its Memory Stick memory card, flash memory market leader SanDisk will launch its 64MB Secure Digital Memory card worldwide in the third quarter this year. Jointly developed by Matsushita (known more commonly under its Panasonic brand name), SanDisk and Toshiba, the card provides highly secure storage that can be used in products such as mobile phones, MP3 players and even global positioning systems.
"The card's development has not been without hiccups," explained SanDisk's senior vice president of worldwide marketing, Nelson Chan. "Security is still a controversial issue. You have to balance the needs of two groups; the content providers on one hand and consumers who do not want prohibitive security on the other."SanDisk has also launched the SD association to promote the card, signing on more than 100 companies.
Meanwhile, Sony has said nine companies in Taiwan have already agreed to license the Memory Stick format, with formal agreements expected to be signed soon. The companies include Acer, CIS Technology, Pacific Technology, PC Chips and Quanta Computers.
Worldwide flash card shipments are expected to exceed $US31 million this year with revenues of more than $1 billion. Shipments will skyrocket to $135 million by 2004, according to IDC figures.
The demand for flash memory is currently exceeding supply, but local distributors say flash cards can still be sourced easily.
"There is not really a shortage in flash memory cards," said Felix Wong, technical director of Advanced Portable Technologies, which distributes SanDisk memory in Australia.
SanDisk is currently the market leader in flash memory with 28 per cent market share. The company sold five million units of flash memory in 1999 and expects sales of around 12 to 15 million units this year.
The first SanDisk products are already beginning to filter into the marketplace; Casio will launch its pocket PC, the Cassiopeia EM-500, at PC Expo in New York later this month and flash memory cards are being increasingly used in the mobile phone and MP3 player market. Currently, Panasonic's SV-SD70 and SV-SD01 HeadSet Audio Player, Toshiba's MEA110AS Audio Player and its MEC100AS MPEG camera can support the 64MB cards. SanDisk also offers supporting software and hardware tools for the cards, including a floppy drive SD adapter, parallel port and USB port readers.
"We believe the technology behind the cards will change the distribution model of music, because not only does it make it possible for a consumer to buy music in a format which can be downloaded straight away, it limits the number of copies that can be made," Bob Goligosky, director of Public Relations at SanDisk, said.
The cost of the technology would decrease rapidly because of the competitive market, he added.