Another Memory Card Format?
Olympus & Fuji Unveil Tiny New xD-Picture Card,
Opening the Door for Even Smaller Digital Cameras
by Theano Nikitas
PTN got an exclusive sneak peek of the new micro memory card at the recent TechXNY trade show during a behind-closed-doors meeting with Olympus, which is developing the media with Fuji.
The tiny card, measuring 20.0x25.0x1.7mm in size and, according to Fuji, "boasts the smallest form factor of any digital memory card," opens the door for even smaller, more powerful, cameras.
Capacity has become—and will continue to be—a major issue as digital camera megapixel capability increases. Fuji projects that in the fall, the xD-Picture Card will be available in 16, 32, 64 and 128MB, with 256MB cards slated for a December launch. In 2003, 512MB and 1GB to a whopping 8GB are scheduled for release. According to Olympus, the cards will be competitively priced. Card readers and adapters will also be available.
Like SmartMedia, the xD (also made by Toshiba) will have the controller built into the camera. The xD-Picture Card looks and feels more durable and rigid than SM cards and the contacts are self-cleaning as the card is inserted/removed.
While it had been widely speculated that Olympus and Fuji would attempt to increase the memory capabilities of their cameras, considering the capacity limitation of SmartMedia (256MB), the introduction of a new card format does come as something of a surprise.
The first question, of course, is: "Does this mean the end of SmartMedia?" According to Olympus, the answer is no. Going forward, cameras will have a two-in-one slot to fit both SM and xD.
Will consumers notice that there's another type of media card? Will they care? Probably not.
(Editor's Note: The following interviews were conducted prior to the announcement of the xD-Picture Card.)
According to Greg Young, director of Sony's Digital Still Camera Business Unit, "Our research suggests that [media type] is not unimportant, but it's not in the top 3-4 parameters for the repeat buyer. And it's very, very low down for the first time buyer. Even at high price points it's very, very low and below $500, buyers have very little preference on flash media types."
Darin Pepple, brand manager of Consumer Digital Imaging Products for FujiFilm's Consumer Markets Division argued that consumers are interested in "price and size—how many pictures will it hold." Those are the numbers people are looking at, continued Pepple, "they're not looking for SmartMedia or SD. They're looking at how many pictures it will store." Retailers, he said, "have expressed to us that if the camera or device is of quality and market demand, then the media will not matter."
But media, according to Young, is the first criteria for consumers who buy CD and FD Mavica cameras based on the strength of the removable storage. "We're beginning to think of it as a new style of digital photography," he explained. This is far more analogous to film than flash media because you're shooting to memory on the media."
Floppy disk cameras accounted for roughly half of all digital cameras sold in April 2000. The dual Memory Stick/Floppy Disk slots are "doing a little better than the [floppy only] MVC-FD75," Young said.
Chris Chute of IDC, a marketing research firm, agreed that the "floppy has been very popular," though it's experiencing some decline. "We think [floppy] will decline over time" and that the way Sony is "keeping it alive is adding a Memory Stick slot to it" to "overcome the issue of higher resolution and larger file sizes." Chute went on to say that, "as long as there's a demand for floppy disk cameras, Sony will keep making them because [floppy] is very easy to use." Chute pointed out that the size of the camera is not an issue because of the floppy's ease of use and that "all the PCs still have the 3 1/2 inch disk drive on them."
Although Chute refers to the CD Mavicas as "more of a niche product" because "they're very expensive," Young reported that sales of Mavica CD models have "picked up" and "Memory Stick has been the fastest growing—both in terms of camera volume and [individual] Memory Sticks."
While interoperability (the ability to use one media type for different devices) doesn't appear to have an impact on camera purchase, Young contended that research indicates people are buying multiple Memory Sticks—128MB has been the best—selling capacity for months-for use in things like the Clié and other devices.