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Removable flash cards continue to shrink

Companies behind the Secure Digital format for removable flash memory cards join Sony and others who have produced smaller versions of their formats with an eye on cell phones.

Companies supporting Secure Digital, a specific format for removable flash memory cards, are working to develop a smaller version of the format for cell phones, according to sources.

Ray Creech, president of the , acknowledged in an interview Tuesday that the group is working on a "small sized memory card format." The nonprofit SD Association comprises 520 companies that promote and develop the postage stamp-size Secure Digital format. Creech is likely to discuss the new, smaller format at a board meeting Tuesday night.

A vote on a final specification of the Secure Digital format is expected in late January. In the meantime, a marketing committee within the group is evaluating names and logos for the format. Creech declined to comment further for this story.

The new, smaller format is part of a growing trend among makers of removable flash memory cards to shrink their products to better suit the size and voltage requirements of cell phones. Analysts expect the cell phone market to become a major opportunity for makers of removable flash memory cards--phones are moving toward becoming convergence devices, incorporating digital cameras, audio players and other gizmos that call for more storage capacity.

IDC expects worldwide shipments in the memory card market to increase from 52.7 million units in 2002 to 271.2 million units in 2006, mostly due to the proliferation of phone handsets and other digital devices using cards. The research company says shipments of cards used in cell phones should explode from 2001's 600,000 units to nearly 150 million units in 2006, and revenue for memory cards should increase from the $990 million pulled down in 2002 to $2.2 billion in 2006.

Supporters of other card formats, such as Memory Stick and MultiMediaCard, have developed smaller versions of their cards to attract cell phone makers. Sony announced in July a smaller Memory Stick, called the Memory Stick Duo, which is currently available in Japan and is expected to be released in the United States in early 2003. In July, camera makers Olympus and Fuji Photo Film announced a replacement for the SmartMedia format, called the xD-Picture Card. In late November, Hitachi announced that it is selling a smaller version of the MultiMediaCard format, called the Reduced Size MultiMediaCard (RS-MMC), in Japan and has sample shipments to limited customers in the United States with retail availability in about a year.

The smaller version of Secure Digital probably won't be available until the late second quarter or early third quarter of 2003. Sources say that phones using the new format will be released at about the same time the cards will become available.

SD Association members Matsushita, Toshiba and SanDisk, known as the 3C, suggested the move toward a new, smaller format.