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Memory makers pick up xD media format

Lexar Media and SanDisk agree to sell the emerging xD Picture Card, a removable flash memory card that's gaining support by riding on the popularity of digital cameras.

Memory developers Lexar Media and SanDisk have agreed to sell the emerging xD-Picture Card, a removable flash memory card format that's gaining traction by riding on the popularity of digital cameras.

Lexar Media and SanDisk on Monday separately announced that they will support the xD-Picture Card format, which was developed and is owned by Olympus Optical, FujiFilm and Toshiba. The format was introduced in the fourth quarter of last year and has gained modest ground due to the amount of digital cameras sold by Olympus and FujiFilm, according to Chris Chute, an analyst with research firm IDC. Digital cameras use removable flash memory to store digital photos.

"xD is primarily a digital camera card format," Chute said. "The success of a card format can be measured by who adopts it."

The digital camera market grew 40 percent in the first quarter of 2003, compared with the same period a year ago. Olympus and Fuji combined made up 30 percent of the market. Olympus held the No. 3 market share position in the United States, with Fuji taking the No. 5 spot. However, globally, Olympus was No. 2, and Fuji was No. 4.

There are numerous removable flash memory card formats already in the market, but Chute said customers are confused by the options. Other formats include CompactFlash, Memory Stick, MultiMedia Card, Secure Digital and Smart Media.

"Consumers don't care about formats at this point; they're more concerned about the device that uses the format," Chute said. "Manufacturers get better margins on newer formats such as xD than older ones such as CompactFlash."

Lexar Media has been selling xD-Picture Cards, in capacities of 16MB to 256MB, since last year. The memory maker also sells CompactFlash, Memory Stick, Secure Digital Card, MultiMediaCard and Smart Media cards. The Fremont, Calif.-based company has been in a partnership with Olympus since 1999, and the two have agreed to work together on future technologies. Lexar Media said it has extended its partnership to license patents to Olympus and sell its card in Olympus cameras.

Sunnyvale, Calif.-based SanDisk said it has signed a five-year agreement to swap patents and manufacture xD-Picture Cards for Olympus. Shipments will begin in select regions starting June 2003, and will be available worldwide by the third quarter. SanDisk will sell xD-Picture Cards in capacities of 64MB to 256MB. The cards support up to 8GB of capacity.

SanDisk also sells CompactFlash, Secure Digital cards, miniSD, SmartMedia, FlashDisk cards, MultiMediaCards and Memory Stick cards.