SanDisk, Motorola create smaller memory card format

SanDisk and Motorola have created a smaller removable flash memory card format for use in mobile phones. The first cards will go on sale in the third quarter to coincide with the launch of a 3G (third generation) Motorola phone designed to use them, said Kelly Radmer, 3G marketing manager at Motorola.

Motorola showed 32M-byte versions of the card on its stand here at the 3GSM World Congress in Cannes, France, and the cards will eventually be available in capacities up to 512M bytes, Radmer said.

On Monday, Motorola announced details of two 3G phones, the E1000 and A1000, that will use the cards. The E1000, using Motorola's own Synergy operating system, will go on sale in the third quarter, and in the fourth quarter the A1000 will appear, running an OS from Symbian.

Two other phones announced that day, the MPx and MPx-100, accept SD (Secure Digital) cards and miniSD cards, respectively, but future Motorola phones containing memory cards will all use the new format, Radmer said.

At around 12 millimeters by 10 millimeters in size, the new cards are smaller than the current champion of miniaturization, the miniSD card, announced less than a year ago. By comparison, miniSD cards measure 21.5 millimeters by 20 millimeters by 1.4 millimeters, and weigh about 1 gram.

Memory cards have been getting smaller in size and larger in capacity over the years, but the progress is still not great enough. The new card format is important for phone manufacturers like Motorola because, as phones get smaller, even miniSD card connectors take up too great a proportion of the phone's volume, Radmer said. This is especially so with the 3G phones announced this week: although the phones are far smaller than their predecessors, Motorola somehow packed a large color screen, two cameras (one for video conferencing, and one with flash) and a 1400 milliamp-hour lithium-ion battery into each phone, leaving no space to be wasted.

In these phones, the new memory card is stored behind the battery, next to the SIM (subscriber identity module), a smart card used to identify and authenticate the phone to the network. The memory cards are less than half the size of a SIM.

In this position, the cards are removable, but Radmer expects the (relatively affluent) purchasers of these high-end phones to buy the largest capacity card they can afford along with their phone, and stick with it. As more 3G phones are added to fill out the bottom of the range, we can expect to see slots for the new memory cards appearing on the outside of the phones to accommodate less affluent customers, who may buy several, cheaper cards during the lifetime of their phone, she said.

The memory card specification will be made available to other manufacturers, Radmer said. "It's open to everyone," she said.

SanDisk spokesman Bob Goligoski confirmed the company's involvement with Motorola in developing the cards. SanDisk is expected to provide further details at an official launch event on March 9.

Pricing has not yet been decided, he said, and although no final decision has been taken on a name for the cards, they will not carry the name Motorola representatives in Cannes are using for them, TriFlash-R. SanDisk uses the TriFlash name for a memory chip technology it introduced in 2000, electrically compatible with cards based on the SD, miniSD and MMC specifications.

A display case on the Motorola stand showed one of the new cards poking out of an adapter around the size of an SD or MMC card. (MMC and SD cards both measure 24 millimeters by 32 millimeters; MMC cards are 1.4 millimeters thick, and SD cards half as thick again, at 2.1 millimeters.)

No details of the performance of the cards, or their electrical characteristics, were available from either party. However, the presence of the adapter, and the coincidence of the TriFlash name, suggests they could be compatible with either SD or MMC cards, some memory card experts suggested.

When contacted, representatives of the SD Card Association in the U.S. and Japan said they had not heard of the new card format.

Sony Ericsson Mobile Communications, which also plans a news conference about multimedia mobile phone accessories on March 9, is not involved in the memory card project, according to Goligoski.

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