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Sony polishes up flash memory card

The company releases a smaller, faster version of its Memory Stick removable flash memory card, targeting digital camcorders and cell phones in a bid to keep up with a changing market.

Sony has released a smaller, roomier and faster version of its Memory Stick removable flash memory, targeting digital camcorders and cell phones in a bid to keep up with a changing market.

The Japanese consumer electronics and entertainment company announced on Friday a new version of its Memory Stick Duo card, called the Memory Stick Pro Duo. The new removable flash memory card has a capacity of up to 512MB, up from a maximum of 128MB in the previous version. It will theoretically be able to transfer data at a rate of up to 20 megabytes per second under optimal conditions, according to Sony.

With the new cards, Sony is aiming to broaden the role of its removable flash memory line by tackling what analysts expect will be the next major growth areas for portable devices: cell phones and digital camcorders.

"Video streaming is critical for Sony, because digital camcorders will be a strong category in the future, so cards will need faster transfer rates," said Joseph Unsworth, an analyst with research firm Gartner.

Memory Stick cards are removable flash memory cards based on solid-state memory. Designed for use in portable consumer electronics and PC products, the cards are known for not skipping when a device is jostled. Memory Stick cards fit into slots in devices such as digital cameras and handheld computers and allow consumers to store data that's collected using one of those devices.

Memory Stick Duo cards are smaller versions of Memory Stick cards, about the size of a postage stamp. They are meant to be used in portable devices such as cell phones.

Flash memory card makers SanDisk and Lexar Media announced on Friday that they will begin selling the Pro Duo cards in September. The 256MB Pro Duo cards will cost about $130, and the 512MB cards will cost about $300, according to Sony.

Addressing the emerging camcorder and cell phone markets should help Memory Stick to maintain its No. 2 market share position, behind Secure Digital, in the removable flash memory card industry. In 2002, Memory Stick had 21 percent of the nearly $2 billion worldwide market, which is expected to grow to $4.6 billion in revenue by 2007, according to Gartner.

Recently, Sony has maneuvered to strike relationships with key strategic partners in hopes of opening up the market for Memory Stick. Earlier this month, the Japanese company and rival Samsung announced they had expanded a product development deal they made in 2001. Under the revised agreement, Samsung will begin manufacturing and selling Memory Stick cards later this quarter. It will also bundle the cards with compatible products, using the Samsung brand.

Any increase Sony can make in the number of products that use Memory Stick cards would be significant, because incompatible formats are one of the biggest hurdles in the card market, according to Unsworth.

"There are seven current major formats, but I expect to see some format consolidation, with the dominant ones now playing a larger role in the future," Unsworth said.

Other card formats include Secure Digital, xD Picture Card, MultiMediaCard, SmartMedia, CompactFlash and PC Card.