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Flash-drive makers form booster group

Lexar, Samsung and others team up to create an industry group to promote a portable data storage device that's small enough to fit on a keychain.

Several companies are creating an industry group to promote a kind of portable data storage device that's small enough to fit on a keychain.

Lexar Media, Samsung Semiconductor and others on Monday launched the USB Flash Drive Alliance. So-called USB flash drives use the Universal Serial Bus interface to connect to computers and rely on silicon-based flash memory to store data. The devices can be used for tasks such as transporting digital documents to and from work.

USB flash drives are growing in popularity but could use a boost when it comes to consumer awareness, said Steffen Hellmold, president of the alliance and also director of flash marketing for Samsung Semiconductor. "Still not many people know about this product," he said. Hellmold said that the devices haven't reached the point where they have their own section in electronics stores.

Even so, the number of USB flash drives shipped worldwide is expected to jump from about 5 million last year to roughly 30 million this year, and to 250 million in 2007, according to market research firm Semico Research.

Given the success of the devices, Semico analyst Jim Handy questioned whether an alliance is needed to promote sales. "They're selling very well without it," he said.

Handy also noted that some major companies with USB flash-drive products have not signed onto the alliance. M-Systems, Trek 2000 International and Sony are not among the founding members.

Aside from Samsung Semiconductor and Lexar Media, other "sponsor" members of the alliance are Genesys Logic, Kingston Technology and PNY Technologies. Crucial Technology, Microsoft, SimpleTech and Viking InterWorks are "associate" members.

USB flash-drive products with a capacity of 2GB range in price from $600 to $1,000, according to the alliance. Flash drives with 256MB sell for under $100, and products with 128MB can be bought for under $50.

Flash-drive makers have been adding features to their products. For example, Sony has introduced a flash drive with a sensor for reading fingerprints.