Scores of Shrinking Storage Solutions
By Diane Berkenfeld
"The whole world in your hand." It is now possible to store an entire wedding job of 500 or more images, a commercial portfolio or entire family image archive on a removable media card that will fit in the palm of your hand. Removable digital storage media has shrunk in size to the point where 64 MB of memory can be housed in a card the size of a postage stamp.
With the decrease in size comes a proliferation of formats. Digital cameras from a variety of manufacturers utilize CompactFlash type I and II (including the IBM Microdrive), SmartMedia, MultiMediaCard, Secure Digital, Memory Stick, floppies, Mini-Zip, PC card, Magneto-Optical disks, and mini CD-R and CD-RW disks. After the images are transferred to computer for manipulation, they can be further saved to floppies, Zip disks, Jazz disks, CD-R or CD-RW, DVD, or Peerless disks for archiving.
In the field or on location, photographers can download their images from the removable media to a portable hard drive a third of the size of a notebook computer. And lastly, presentation devices have begun to move from the computer room to the living room to be viewed on the television.
The multitude of format choices and sizes spurs debate regarding the future "shake-out" if any of format choices. How many are too many? How small is too small? At what capacity does the cost outweigh the cost of the digital camera? Should there be a universal format? Is it interchangeable?
Should there be one universal standard?
No Easy Answers
Regarding the question of a universal standard the answer could be yes and no. Different types of products may dictate specific types of media. Digital cameras may take one size, audio recorders another, and PDAs yet another. Where small size is critical, MMC or SD cards would be a good choice. Secure Digital was created because there was a need for copyright protection for music, movies and other commercial content. For applications that do not need such security, CompactFlash, SmartMedia, and MultiMediaCards are expected to continue in use and popularity.
As Delkin Device's Martin Wood explains, "If there is a logical advantage to a type of card — it will survive." Sony had the brand name recognition, dealer and consumer base to support their Memory Stick media.
Whether or not camera manufacturers should stick with a proven standard or create products that utilize specific media is another question. Sony offers a large number of products that utilize Memory Stick media including digital cameras, digital picture frames, PDAs and laptops. Sony is also licensing the technology to other manufacturers in order to create even more Memory Stick compatible product. In Sony's case — it works.
When a company creates a media format specifically for their cameras, questions are raised regarding the staying power of such media. What happens to the consumer who has purchased one of these devices only to find that the format has been discontinued some time down the road?
As to whether the industry can go any smaller than the postage stamp size MultiMediaCard and Secure Digital card, the answer is yes. "Whether the consumer wants it is a marketing question," adds Delkin's Wood.
A spokesperson for SanDisk Corp., another manufacturer of removable media concurs, "MMC and SD are probably the smallest cards will get before they become ergonomically unusable." The technology is available to shrink the size of media but if consumers lose them too easily or can't read the labels they won't use the format.
IBM's Microdrive has a 1 GB capacity, CompactFlash now reaches the 512 MB mark. At what point does the consumer decide enough memory is enough? According to SanDisk's spokesperson, "Technically, it is feasible to offer very high capacity cards. SanDisk already offers a 1 GB PC card and will soon have this capacity on CF. However the issue is what will the market want? How much are they (consumers) willing to pay for a 1 GB card or greater? Typically, most people are not willing to pay more for their cards than their device."
Removable storage media is not all there is to sell as an accessory to a digital camera either. Card readers have become a popular item with digital camera owners, allowing users to quickly and easily download images from memory card to computer. Card readers are available for the more popular media formats including CompactFlash type I and II, SmartMedia, MultiMediaCards, Secure Digital, Memory Stick and PC cards. Most readers connect to computer by USB, but Firewire has recently begun to reach the marketplace.
Storage Cases are becoming a large market as well. With multiple cards — and the fact only one can be inserted in the camera at a time — cases that store and protect the valuable removable media cards are an inexpensive added peace of mind.
The digital image is slowly moving from the computer screen to the television screen. Iomega's Fotoshow consists of a 250 MB Zip drive that connects to a television set for display of digital photos. It accepts CompactFlash (including the IBM Microdrive) and SmartMedia cards and has a slideshow feature too. The Fotoshow can also be connected to a computer by USB and used as an external Zip drive.