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SanDisk, Motorola shrink flash cards

The companies look to capitalize on the trend toward the miniaturization of memory cards, with a new technology aimed at handsets.

Memory card maker SanDisk and cell phone manufacturer Motorola have teamed up on a new small flash card aimed at handsets as the two companies look to capitalize on the trend toward the miniaturization of memory cards.

SanDisk formally announced the new format, called T-Flash, late Thursday. The new cards will allow portable devices to store data, such as digital images and audio. SanDisk expects the cards to be readily available in the second quarter, and Motorola intends to use them in new cell phones due out in the second half of the year.

The T-Flash cards will be about half the size of a cell phones' subscriber identity module (SIM) cards, or about the size of a fingernail, according to Sunnyvale, Calif.-based SanDisk. They will store 32MB to 128MB of memory and cost $14 to $39, the company said.

Several new formats have been introduced over the last two years and have consistently been smaller than previous formats to address the needs of the shrinking devices.

More and more of these small cards are targeting the high-volume cell phone market. Cell phones have been advancing to include features such as integrated cameras and messaging capabilities, which require local storage. At the same time, they've been getting smaller to appeal to consumers who rate portability high among their priorities.

The worldwide flash memory card market generated $1.7 billion in revenue in 2002, and research firm IDC estimates that it increased by more than 100 percent in 2003.

Digital cameras have been the major catalyst for the growth of the flash memory card market, but that is expected to change as more phones come with built-in cameras.

Cell phones made up about 24 percent of worldwide demand for cards in 2003, according to IDC. Mobile phones with built-in cameras devices were less popular in the United States and Europe than in Asia, where a built-in camera is practically a standard feature.

So many cards, so little time
Multiple incompatible card formats have created some confusion among consumers, but with Motorola's support, SanDisk has a good chance of gaining a foothold in the market for the new format, according to Jim Handy, an analyst with research firm Semico Research. Motorola is among the top five cell phone makers in the world.

T-Flash cards can be fitted into an SD adapter and used in devices with an SD slot. T-Flash uses NAND flash memory, which is typically used in MP3 players and portable flash cards like Sony's Memory Stick. Shipments of products using NAND more than doubled in 2003, lifting the fortunes of NAND manufacturers like Samsung and Toshiba.

According to a Semico survey, most card makers feel that the number of formats in the market is a problem, but SanDisk was not one of those companies. SanDisk sells most of the major card formats to consumers, retailers and device makers and is one of the bigger players in the market. The company has also co-developed some of the major formats, including Memory Stick Pro and Select.

"It wouldn't be surprising to see this format come screaming out of the gate," because of the Motorola support, Handy said.

Among the current card types are Memory Stick, Secure Digital, CompactFlash, MultiMediaCard, xD-Picture Card and Smart Media. There are also miniature versions of Memory Stick, Secure Digital and MultiMediaCard.