By Lisa Johnston
New products on display at the American International Toy Fair, held in N
Flash memory manufacturer SanDisk made a number of wide-ranging announcements at its International CES press conference, here, aimed at establishing new beachheads for flash memory use in portable music players, game consoles, school textbooks and healthcare applications.
The company also unveiled a new SD card that opens up to reveal a USB 2.0 pin that plugs into any standard USB port. The SD/USB card works in any device that takes SD memory and gives users the ability to plug the card directly into a USB slot without cables or card readers, where it acts like a typical USB drive. When used as a USB drive, the device offers an LED light to indicate data transfer activity.
SanDisk plans to ship the new SD/USB card in late March/early April of this year in capacities up to 1GB. According to Tanya Chuang, retail product marketing manager, the cards would cost approximately 25 percent more than standard SD cards in similar capacities.
Chuang said that SanDisk preferred the integrated approach vs. the recently introduced Lexar USB Card, which forces another form factor on hardware makers. “SD is the most popular removable memory format, and this new card requires no new construction on their part,” while giving users the advantage of direct USB connectivity, Chuang said.
More details on the SD/USB card will be available next month.
The company also introduced its third-generation flash-based MP3 player with a new brand. The Sansa e100 series will join the company's existing digital audio players, which will also wear the Sansa brand. The units offer MP3 and WMA (both DRM and unprotected) playback, and a digital FM radio with 20 presets. They also feature embedded flash memory with SD card slots for adding extra capacity. They are powered by one AAA battery (included) and will ship in March.
The e130, for a suggested $149, will feature 512MB of built-in memory while the 1GB e140 will carry a $199 suggested retail.
SanDisk also set its sights on the gaming industry, announcing a line of Memory Stick PRO Duo and SD cards with “game packaging” for use in portable video-game platforms. The Memory Stick is geared for Sony's PlayStation Portable, recently introduced in Japan, while the SD cards will work with the Tapwave Zodiac and Gizmondo gaming platforms.
The Memory Stick PRO Duo cards in game packaging will be sold in capacities ranging from 128MB to 1GB with suggested retails from $39.99 to $159.99. Gaming SD cards will also be available in 128MB to 1GB with suggested retails from $34.99 to $104.99.
The relatively new TransFlash memory module, which SanDisk initially designed for use in multimedia cellular phones, will be used in a new line of digital audio headphones, the company said. St. Louis-based GPX built TransFlash expansion slots in its new SportX Series of digital audio headphone players, making them the first non-phone product to incorporate the memory. TransFlash will be sold separately in 32MB to 256MB capacities and ship with an SD card adapter.
SanDisk will also supply USB drives for use in the MedicAlert Personal HealthKey — a device for electronically storing a person's health information. The drive will let users enter critical heath information that can be accessed by emergency personnel by inserting the HealthKey into a USB port.
The Personal HealthKey will be sold through retail by SanDisk and sold directly through CapMed (a hospital supplier) and MedicAlert in the first half of 2005. Suggested retails will range from $50 to $75, based on the Personal HealthKey application, the capacity of the drive, and membership with MedicAlert. Membership provides online backup of information on the MedicAlert database with 24/7 support from the Medic-Alert Emergency Response Center.
Finally the company announced the acquisition of MDRM, a privately-held Israeli company that develops solutions for distributing secure content through flash memory cards. The company was acquired last month; the terms of the acquisition were not disclosed.
The move positions SanDisk to distribute secure content on memory cards and USB drives. Its first MDRM-developed application, BookLocker, is being employed by SanDisk's Cruzer USB drive to allow textbook publishers to offer electronic versions stored on flash drives for students in grades K-12. According to Dan Harkabi, secure content solutions VP, SanDisk and MDRM founder, the vision extends beyond textbooks to any media content stored electronically. The MDRM solution will give the content community the necessary reassurance that their intellectual property would be protected while giving users a better experience, such as overwriting an old e-book with a new one without having to repurchase a flash drive, Harkabi said.
“To access the protected content, you have to physically break the device,” Harkabi said.
In other USB flash drive news, SanDisk announced that its Cruzer Micro USB drives are set for a makeover in the spring, when the company will ship new drives with interchangeable color “skins” and caps. The rubberized skins will initially ship in two colors and a clear version and will be sold with Micros in capacities of 256MB to 2GB, in redesigned packaging. The skins will not interfere with the drive's ability to connect to PCs or other USB ports, SanDisk said.
The company also upped the capacities across its entire family of USB drives. The Cruzer Mini will now be available in up to 2GB for a suggested $199.99 and 4GB for $399.99, while the Cruzer Micro will now have 1GB and 2GB capacities. The Cruzer Titanium will get a 1GB addition for $169.99
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