If Lexar has its way, the 12 flash memory card formats used in digital cameras, MP3 players and other popular CE devices could be swept away, replaced by a single “USB FlashCard” that combines the interoperability of current USB flash drives with the tiny form factor of a flash memory card.
The card will be approximately the same volume as an SD memory card, making it small enough to plug inside any camera or MP3 player just like a traditional flash memory card, but unlike a flash card, the USB FlashCard can be removed from the host device and plugged directly into any standard USB port on a computer, eliminating the need for card readers and USB cables.
The concept is not new — the Universal Transportable Memory Association (UTMA) introduced a concept called FISH memory in February which to date has yet to come to market — but unlike FISH, which was created by an association without a firm manufacturing commitment, Lexar will have physical product in stores in the first quarter of next year, said Steffen Hellmold, Lexar, OEM products general manager.
Another key difference, Hellmold said, is that the USB Card is designed as an open, royalty-free standard, unlike FISH. Both flash card and device manufacturers can incorporate the new memory without paying licensing fees, Hellmold said.
“Right now there is no true ubiquitous storage solution,” Hellmold said. “USB is widespread in computers, and it is used already in a number of CE devices. As of next year, USB drives will be the number one solid state storage format on the market.”
Aside from harmonizing connectivity, Hellmold said another benefit would be improved communication between the host device and the card.
“Right now there is a large variance in flash card performance because a camera can't tell what the flash card can do, whether it's a fast card or a slow card,” Hellmold said. The USB FlashCard would define a standard of communication between the two so that future devices would better maximize the performance of the memory. For instance, a digital camera would know the USB FlashCard could support a certain data transfer rate and then configure itself to an appropriate level of performance automatically.
Hellmold admitted that winning manufacturer support for yet another flash memory format would be a tough road to hoe. As of its announcement, no device maker had announced compatible product, although the cards will already work in any device that accepts a Type A USB drive commonly found on PCs.
“I'm not insane, I don't think we're going to knock off SD next year” Hellmold said, but added that a number of manufacturers were evaluating the new standard.
“We are encouraging an open platform because we think in order to continue to grow the memory market we need open standards,” Hellmold said.
Lexar's USB FlashCards will be available in 16MB, 32MB and 64MB capacities in the first quarter, priced between SD cards and Compact Flash cards in similar capacities, Hellmold said. Higher capacity cards, up to 1GB in 2005, will be rolled out later in the year.
Hellmold noted that Lexar will continue to sell and support all the various flash memory formats which the company sells. The USB FlashCard would be an addition to its lineup, Hellmold said.