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Growing storage needs call for shrinking technology

Digital cameras, portable MP3 players, and other devices call for more memory than can be squeezed into these diminutive gadgets at a reasonable cost.

As digital technology wends its way into smaller and smaller consumer electronics devices, the need for storage technology just keeps growing.

The explosive

Sony Memory Stick
Sony's Memory Stick
growth of digital cameras, portable MP3 music players, handheld computers, and other devices is sure to generate more pictures, more music, and more files than can be squeezed into these diminutive gadgets at a reasonable cost. Yet at the same time these devices are in need of higher storage capacity, manufacturers are demanding smaller technologies to accommodate those needs.

The market for digital cameras will reach $5.4 billion by 2002, according to International Data Corporation. To boot, more than 3.9 million handheld devices shipped worldwide in 1998, a 61.4 percent increase over 1997 shipments, according to Dataquest.

Companies such as Sony, IBM, and Iomega are looking at the expansion and see a complementary trend: the need to store more data. The company that can address these needs first and establish its technology as a de-facto standard stands to reap significant gains.

Sony hopes that its purple "Memory Stick," which is essentially flash memory, will be one of those technologies.

The Memory Stick, about the size and shape of a small piece of chewing gum, can be used to store images via a digital camera or PC that accepts it. A 4MB version is priced at $29, while a 32MB version due this summer is expected to be priced at $129.

Sony is doing what it can to proliferate the technology. The company has already released notebook and desktop computers with the slot built in, as well as audio-video equipment such as a Digital Handycam camcorder that can store still images on a Memory Stick.

Also, the company talked of plans to

Iomega's Clik drive
bring out its own take on the "digital Walkman", reportedly within the year. The device would use Sony's own Memory Stick technology for added storage capacity instead of the industry standard Compact Flash memory storage technology, in part due to Sony's concerns over music piracy.

To become a more widely used technology, though, analysts say the technology must be available to other manufacturers. A number of companies have expressed interest in licensing the technology, but a spokesperson said no agreements have been announced yet.

Iomega too, is at the starting gate in terms of getting its products widely adopted.

Its Clik product is an external drive weighing under seven ounces that attaches to notebooks, handheld computers, and digital cameras. Clik disks hold 40MB of information and are about the size of a matchbook, according to Iomega. Clik can be used in place of a floppy disk for traditional data storage, or as digital "film" to store images for digital cameras.

"Clik is aimed at the broader consumer market," said senior analyst Bob Armatrouda of International Data Corporation, whereas other removable storage technologies are more closely tied to the use of a PC.

The external

IBM's microdrive
version of the Clik drive is currently available to consumers, but Iomega has not yet shipped a downsized, internal version of the product. IDC's Armatrouda said Iomega should enjoy most of its success with an internal version can be built into sub-$500 digital cameras as well as ultraportable notebooks and handheld devices.

"Clik was invented for the whole portable digital devices marketplace," said Keith Slankard, director of global business development at Iomega.

Agfa will put the drive into its products, and companies such as Sharp Electronics and Casio are evaluating its use as well, Slankard said.

IBM is eyeing a number of markets for its storage technologies, including digital cameras and handheld PCs.

"Clearly we are looking at forecasts that say the handheld and mobile computer field will grow tremendously over the next five or six years," said John Osterhout, director of marketing for IBM's microdrive products.

IBM's strategy has been to take a computer's hard disk drive and shrink it--a lot. The company is planning on selling by mid-1999 a hard disk drive weighing less than 20 grams which can store either 170MB or 340MB of data. The drive fits into Compact Flash type II slots.

Industry analysts expect the drives to be priced at around $1 per megabyte of storage.

Minolta has already publicly shown a camera that uses the microdrive, while Kodak and others have publicly expressed interest, Osterhout said. The drive is expected to be widely used in handheld PCs and other areas where large amounts of data need to be stored, he thinks.