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Iomega licenses smallest product

Under the agreement, Citizen will manufacture and market Iomega's Clik drives for use in its own portable electronic products by the end of 1998.

Iomega (IOM) formally signed Citizen Watch of Japan as the first licensee of its newest storage technology, called Clik, but potential rivals loom on the horizon.

Iomega Clik drives are designed for use in digital cameras, handheld computers, and other consumer products. The tiny drives have removable disks that can store up to 40MB of data.

Under the agreement, Citizen will manufacture and market Iomega's Clik drives for use in its own portable electronic products by the end of 1998. Citizen declined to specify what type of products will first use the device. Citizen will also sell the drives to other original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and the companies will develop "enhanced" versions of Clik drives. Financial terms were not disclosed.

Iomega expects to begin production of the Clik drives by the second half of 1998, with an expected price of around $200 for the drive and under $10 for the disk itself.

By mid-1999, Iomega could be facing some competition from Ioptics for design wins in the handheld and mini-notebook market. Also today, Ioptics introduced a device called OROM which holds up to 128MB of information on a data card around the size of a business card, according to the company.

OROM is designed for handheld devices running Microsoft's Windows CE operating system (OS), Sun Microsystems' Java OS, and also notebook computers, as previously reported.

Other optical storage devices like CD-ROMs work with one laser reading data one bit at a time, track by track, on a rotating disk. OROM reads data that is prerecorded on two-dimensional cells by an array of light sources, with one light beam assigned to each cell of data, and then converts the data into digital data. In contrast, the Clik drive records its information on magnetic media in a manner similar to a floppy drive.

The total time accessing data using OROM technology is 10 milliseconds, equivalent to the data access time of a hard drive, and 10 times faster than CD-ROMs, according to Ioptics.

One important difference from Iomega's Clik drive, however, is that OROM drives can't repeatedly record information onto the disk. While Clik may be more suitable for digital cameras or other applications where information needs to be recorded while away from a computer, Ioptics officials say OROM will be initially targeted for applications such as storing databases and reference guides such as atlases. The technology is also suited for adding new programs and functions to handheld devices such as voice recognition, according to the company.

Ioptics announced that it has secured a $9.5 million investment to develop the technology, which includes money from Microsoft.

128MB data cards are expected to cost between $2 to $3. By comparison, the price of a 4MB flash memory card, now often used in digital cameras, runs from $50 to over $100.

"Iomega is clearly superior in cost per image, but obviously it has a couple of obstacles, one of them being inertia," Alexis Gerard, executive editor of Future Image Report. Vendors such as Toshiba and SanDisk have licensed their flash memory card technology for use in an array of digital cameras from different manufacturers. Gerard notes that the Clik drive is somewhat bulkier and draws more power than solid state devices as well.

Ioptics' reader will sell for approximately $200. Availability is expected by mid-1999.