Memory-card advances boost gadget development

About a year ago, when SanDisk Corp. first introduced a 512M-byte Compact Flash memory card, it was priced at US$799. Now for the same price you can get SanDisk's highest-capacity 1G-byte Compact Flash, which was rolled out in the first quarter this year. A 512M-byte card is now selling at $329.99.

"Prices in the flash memory market declined 70 percent in the past year, and they will continue to fall," Nelson Chan, senior vice president and general manager of SanDisk's retail business unit, said in Tokyo last week. "But the best is yet to come in this market," he said, for both vendors and consumers.

While consumers will enjoy lower prices for higher-capacity memory cards, SanDisk, the world's largest flash memory-card vendor, based in Sunnyvale, California, expects further development in flash-memory technology to expand the memory-card market.

The capacities of memory cards such as Compact Flash, Smart Media, MultiMedia, SD (Secure Digital) and Memory Stick are expected to double every 12 to 18 months, and SanDisk is planning to unveil a 2G-byte Compact Flash card next year, Chan said.

As memory-card capacities grow, new types of gadgets can be produced, Chan said. An example is Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. Ltd.'s D-snap, a device the size of a mobile phone that can record and play video, still images and audio recordings, Chan said.

Since SD cards reached capacities of 512M bytes and more, it has been possible to produce a compact-size video recorder with only an SD card slot, Chan said. The D-snap, launched earlier this year, can record up to 11 hours and 20 minutes of video with a 512M-byte SD card, according to a Matsushita statement.

Currently, digital still cameras and video recorders are largest markets for memory cards, Chan said. PDAs (personal digital assistants) and MP3 players are in second and third place, respectively, followed by mobile phones.

However, as 3G (third-generation) networks spread by 2004, SanDisk expects that mobile phones equipped with memory-card slots will become its biggest product by 2006, Chan said.

In fact, Matsushita, better known by its Panasonic brand name, is considering unveiling a 3G mobile-phone product with an SD card slot sometime after the second quarter of this year, Hiroshi Ryu, manager of the public relations team at Matsushita said.

The SD format, jointly developed by SanDisk, Matsushita and Toshiba Corp. in 1999, is likely to become the most-popular memory card by 2004, SanDisk predicted.

Compact Flash is currently the most-shipped memory card type, followed by Smart Media, and that trend will continue for the next two years, Chan said. However, by 2006 the company expects that 24 million Compact Flash cards will be shipped, compared to154 million SD cards shipped worldwide, he said.

The company expects Sony Corp.'s Memory Stick to be in second place by 2004, but predicts that shipment numbers will be relatively low compared with SD cards. In 2006, SanDisk predicts that 65 million Memory Sticks will be shipped worldwide.

"If more products, other than Sony's, become available then that may change," Chan said. Sony does not disclose how many non-Sony devices are available with a Memory Stick slot. However, around 20 million products, including Memory Stick cards and Memory Stick-enabled devices, have been shipped worldwide, according to Sony's Web site.

A growing number of vendors are producing devices with an SD card. A total of 124 products are currently available from makers such as Canon Inc., Hewlett-Packard Co., IBM Corp., Hitachi Ltd., Eastman Kodak Co., Palm Inc. and NEC Corp, as well as Matsushita and Toshiba, SanDisk said.

SanDisk is due to launch a cigarette package-size USB (Universal Serial Bus) storage device, called Cruzer, in June. It will have an SD card slot rather than a Compact Flash slot, SanDisk said.