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Sony wants to make flash format stick

The company reveals plans for a new version of Memory Stick, its removable flash-memory card technology, bringing the technology to new kinds of gadgets.

Sony and its partners have increased their efforts to make the flash-memory card format known as Memory Stick a de facto standard, announcing Monday the upcoming introduction of a new, smaller version of the format, geared toward different types of devices.

Memory Stick is a removable flash-memory card format roughly the size of a stick of chewing gum. Sony created it for portable consumer-electronics devices, such as cameras and digital audio players. The upcoming Memory Stick Duo is about one-third the size of the original, and is meant to fit into devices such as cell phones and small digital audio players, expanding the number of devices using Memory Stick technology.

Sony first began discussing Memory Stick Duo in 2000 and on Monday announced at a conference in Tokyo that the market introduction is set for July of this year. Memory Stick Duo cards can be used in devices supporting Memory Stick cards through the use of an adapter.

Through the nearly four-year-old promotional efforts of Sony and its roughly 250 partners, the Memory Stick format has gradually gained market acceptance. There were 20 million shipments of the cards as of March, according to Sony. Entering the cell phone and digital audio player markets should help boost Memory Stick's market share of the removable flash-memory card market, according to Alan Niebel, analyst with research firm Web-Feet Research.

Web-Feet estimates that this year 5.1 million removable flash-memory cards will be shipped to be used in cell phones and that 1.4 million of those will be Memory Stick cards. The total number of cards is expected to triple next year, to 15.5 million cards, and Memory Stick is expected to account for about 5.2 million units. Removable flash-memory cards were a $1.3 billion market last year, according to Niebel.

"Memory Stick is getting into the cell phone market where removable flash will play a role in storing voicemail, e-mail, fonts, music and eventually video and applications," Niebel said. "One of the biggest opportunities for removable flash memory is consumer electronics, where Sony is very strong."

The momentum for the card format seems to be building. Also on Monday, NTT DoCoMo became the latest company to commit to using Memory Stick cards. The cards will be used in DoCoMo's camera-equipped cell phones.

As part of the Duo announcement in Tokyo, Memory Stick developers also discussed new products, such as Memory Stick-ROM, designed for music, image contents and other data. The ROM version can be manufactured at a lower cost than regular Memory Stick, and an 8MB version is ready for mass production.

Sony's U.S. representatives declined to comment on pricing and availability of the Memory Stick Duo in the United States. The announcement in Tokyo made no mention of pricing in Japan.