CEBIT - USB drives spread their wings

Several devices at Cebit this week combine flash memory and USB in interesting ways.

A USB memory stick that doubles as a portable VOIP (voice over Internet protocol) phone and a 16G-byte personal storage device the size of a credit card are just two of the devices at Cebit this week that combine flash memory and USB in interesting ways.

The memory stick can be loaded with Skype Technologies' voice-calling software and comes with an attachable headset, allowing a user who is on vacation or working on the road, for example, to plug it into virtually any Internet-connected PC and use it to make their VOIP phone calls.

Also equipped with an MP3 player and video player functions, it comes in three storage capacities: 512M-byte, 1G-byte and 2G-byte, according to developer A-Data Technology of Taiwan. Users can load their phone books and other information on the device, and use it anywhere they can plug it in, said Jess Huang, from A-Data's marketing division.

The device is expected to be out in Asia by about April, Huang said. Pricing was not yet available.

It's just one example of the interesting uses companies are finding for USB memory sticks. A wave of devices are coming out that carry people's entire e-mail system, television settings or Internet bookmarks and passwords, so that a user can plug into any computer and use it almost as if it were their own.

Another example is the SmarThumb software from Malaysia's Intranet Sendirian Berhad. The program includes e-mail, addresses, bookmarked Web sites and other personal data and runs from a USB memory stick or MMC (multimedia card) flash memory card. The email box works with Gmail and Yahoo and will soon work with Lotus Notes, according to Daniel Teh, product development manager for the company. The company is selling the software directly to USB makers, he said.

Users looking for massive storage capacities in a device that fits in their pocket could look at the 16G-byte disk developed by Power Quotient International (PQI) of Taipei. The device is shaped like a thick credit card and fits easily into an average wallet. A USB plug pulls out of the back for use with any USB-ready computer.

"Since it's designed to fit into a wallet we had to make it very strong," said PQI's Joseph Lu. The outside is metal and there is a plastic frame inside to protect the flash chips, he said.

"It's a bit more expensive to use metal, but we figured plastic casing just wouldn't be strong enough," he said.

The device will be in mass production by May and available worldwide by midyear, according to Lu. Pricing has not yet been set.

It was by far the largest-capacity mini personal-storage device on display at Cebit. Small key-chain USB sticks were available in up to 4G-byte sizes, but no larger.

Flash storage is also increasing for camera buffs. A few companies here showed off 8G-byte compact flash cards, including Goldenmars Technology (H.K.) and Silicon Power Computer & Communications.

Another type of device doing the rounds at Cebit is a USB drive with a single slot that reads multiple memory-card types, so users with digital cameras or other devices that use MMC, SD (secure digital) and other cards can carry one USB card reader around.

Candy Technology had several key-chain USB drives that are already shipping, including one that reads Trans Flash cards, SD cards, mini SD cards, MMCs and RS-MMCs (reduced size MMC cards).

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Dan Nystedt

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