Sony expands Memory Stick platform

Sony has signed licensing agreements covering the Memory Stick with 116 companies and around 50 products and prototypes from some of those companies are on display at Comdex this week. They range from a Linux-based PDA (personal digital assistant) from Taiwan's Acer to a car navigation system that reads GPS (global positioning system) data from Memory Stick made by Alpine Electronics.

Getting more support for Memory Stick from other companies is vital for Sony if it wants the format to be more widely used. Until now it has been alone in promoting the format and has managed to carve out a sizable share of the market, but needs the support of others to take the format further, said Ryoji Sato, manager of the Memory Stick promotion planning group at Sony in Tokyo.

"In the Japanese domestic market, the Memory Stick already has almost 30 per cent market share after SmartMedia and Compact Flash in terms of the number of cards sold," said Sato.

Sony hopes that, by bringing other manufacturers on board, it can increase this share and edge out SmartMedia and Compact Flash for the number one position at home and also head off the advance of recently launched formats such as MultiMediaCard and Secure Digital.

Like the latter two formats, one version of the Memory Stick also includes built-in support for copy protection -- something that Sato said was being considered for the format from its design days.

"In the beginning of 1998, we announced the Memory Stick format. At that time [then Sony president] Noboyuki Idei asked us to include copyright protection technologies in the announcement," he said. "Most of us couldn't understand why copyright protection was needed but now content distribution is getting popular and we all understand the importance of copyright protection."

Sony now includes support for its own Magic Gate copy protection system in white-colored Memory Stick cards and the basic license covers not only the card format but also the copy protection system.

Sato said Sony expects to ship a 128MB version of the card next spring and a 1GB version by 2003. With increasing use of the card the company is also predicting cumulative shipments of Memory Stick products will hit 100 million in the same year.

In addition to showing new third-party applications for Memory Stick, Sony also demonstrated for the first time a range of peripherals that make use of the Memory Stick interface.

It first disclosed plans to use the Memory Stick interface as more than a port for memory cards in late August when it launched its Clie personal digital assistant. Specifically, the company had in mind a range of peripheral products such as a digital still camera, and some of its first working prototypes were on display at Comdex.

In addition to a functioning digital still camera module, Sony was also demonstrating a GPS module and a finger print identification module. All three are expected to hit the market in 2001 with the digital still camera being available in early 2001, said a Sony spokeswoman at Comdex. She was unable to provide prices for the devices.

In addition to being compatible with the Clie, the devices will also work with compliant mobile telephones, personal computers and other devices, said Sony. Such compliant products are also expected to be on sale during 2001.

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