November 20, 1998 11:35 AM PST

Sony unveils tiny "Memory Stick"

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LAS VEGAS--Sony is betting that the next big electronic handheld device will be a very small memory drive.

The Japanese consumer electronics giant used Comdex as a platform to

Sony Memory Stick
Sony unveiled its very small Memory Stick at Comdex.
launch its "Memory Stick" technology into the U.S. market. Memory Stick is essentially a portable, re-recordable storage media that can save digital photos, data, music, or other information. What makes the technology different from other portable storage devices is size: A single stick with an 8MB capacity measures around 1.5 inches long and is about the thickness of a piece of gum.

Memory Stick drives, therefore, are exceptionally small in comparison and can be placed in a much wider array number of consumer electronic devices, said Fujio Noguchi, a producer in the creative office product at Sony. Sony has incorporated memory stick drives into a few digital cameras in Japan already, but in the future Memory Stick bays will appear in phones, Walkman-like devices, TV set-top boxes, TV remotes, and electronic books.

Sony, which seemed to be creating the most buzz on the Comdex floor show, also took the occasion to show off prototypes for the "Single Media Activated Platform," or SMAP, a tablet-like electronic reading platform that can also be hooked up to the Internet.

While only a few Memory Stick applications exist now, Sony is working furiously to build support for the technology. Sony and "one huge Japanese semiconductor company" are currently manufacturing Memory Sticks, Noguchi said.

Six other manufacturers--Sharp, Olympus, Casio, Aiwa, Sanyo, and Fujitsu--have already committed to support the technology, and other support agreements are in the works.

The technology will also get better and drop in price. Currently, a 4MB memory stick sells for around $30 while the 8MB version goes for $40. In the spring, Sony will release 16MB and 32MB modules. The sticks themselves consist of "flash memory, a special controller and a serial interface," said Noguchi.

The company displayed a number of product prototypes in their booth at Comdex to show how the technology may be used in the future. In one example, photos taken on a digital camera were stored directly onto a stick. The stick was then inserted into a phone equipped with a tiny drive bay. The photos were then transferred across the telephone lines. Sony also showed how music can be recorded and played back.

Sony further added that it is working to ensure that copyright protection will be enforced on the platform.

Electronic tablet aimed at non-PC users
Single Media Activated Platform, meanwhile, is a technology still in the planning stages, but clearly one that also drew quite a bit of attention from attendees.

Aimed at non-PC users, SMAP is designed to be an easy-to-use electronic tablet that can be used for a wide variety of functions. A single SMAP tablet, theoretically, can be used as an electronic book, but also as an Internet reading device, an e-mail platform, or as a personal data manager similar to a handheld computer.

SMAP's versatility comes from how the OS and other applications are stored, said Sony representatives. The OS, applications and all data are stored on PCMCIA-like disks. Users then swap the disks in and out depending on the function that they want to run. As a result, the hardware and software are completely independent.

The SMAP system uses Sony's own Aperios operating system but is compatible with Java. Prototypes feature a MIPS processor, a 140MB of memory and a 12.1-inch screen. Data input is performed through the touch panel or an optional keyboard.

Sony representatives, however, again emphasized that SMAP was a prototype technology and did not provide details on actual product offerings.

 

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