Monday, August 21, 2006

Don't Just Store It, Flash It

Today's news that Sandisk is launching a flash memory based music player to compete with the iPod Nano marks a another milestone in the evolution of Flash based storage. A journey that started a while ago and is a great example of why sometimes a solution in search of a problem may still be a great invention. Well documented by the Economist in this article, the "floating gate memory" has its humble ambitions enshrined in this quote from the same article...

"Dr Sze, who now works at the National Chiao Tung University in Taiwan, recalls the initial reaction to this breakthrough. “My boss said ‘Simon, tell me, what use can you think of for this device?' I could not think of anything.” As a result, he was told to bury the result in an obscure journal, lest this useless invention draw the ridicule of his peers. "

It has become apparent that the Flash Memory (all the USB Sticks, and memory cards that go into cameras and the gadgety phones) will eventually catch up with traditional (RAM and ROM) memory. Flash memory can be rewritten like RAM but it can also retain data when switched off, like ROM.

In the march toward convergence, these memory devices which are additionally able to store more data in a single cell and are engineered to have a much smaller form factor are key to more usable and versatile devices which can fit into the palm of your hand.

This also has additional ramifications on Consumer Electronics devices. As governments mull on a possible levy on devices that have a "standby mode" on grounds of energy consumption, there is clearly a need for many devices to stay "on" while it interacts with service providers even while it is not being used actively by the consumer. Expect flash memory to make an appearence here as well, as a temporary but reliable storage which can feed both content and metadata to multiple devices.

Don't expect your laptops to become miraculously lighter overnight, but do watch the growth of Flash Memory and see how it creeps up on you.


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