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U3 Adds Three Hardware Partners

Redwood City, Calif. — U3, the company formed by SanDisk and M-Systems to promote the USB flash drive as a platform for software applications, announced today the addition of three hardware partners: Kingston, Verbatim and Memorex.

The three media companies, which are M-System customers, have agreed to develop USB flash drives according to U3’s specifications, creating, in effect, a new category of “smart USB drives” capable of more than just data storage, said Andrea Butter, U3’s marketing VP.

Memorex said it would ship select products in its TravelDrives line of USB flash drives with U3 “later this year.”

Verbatim will offer the capability in its Store ‘n’ Go drives this year.

The companies can decide what features and software they want to program the drives with, if at all, but all will bear a U3 logo on the packaging, Butter said. As of yet, none of the three companies have announced which applications they will offer.

“This is a way for manufacturers to differentiate their product,” Butter added.

U3 was developed to continue the growth of the USB flash drive market in the midst of intense competition and falling prices, which is expected to reach 67.5 million units shipped and a revenue of $2.1 billion this year according to the research firm Gartner Dataquest.

The company is hoping to replicate the model of Palm One, disseminating a set of specifications to encourage the software community to develop programs that can run off USB drives. Indeed, U3 has recruited former Palm Computing executive Kate Purmal to serve as its CEO.

“Software publishers want to see manufacturer support. They want as many customers as possible for their product,” Butter said. “These new partnerships give us that.”

U3 debuted during International CES in January with several software developers, including MedicAlert, McAfee, CheckPoint, Corel and ICQ, on board at the launch.