The lighter side of USB thumb storage

As the replacement for the venerable floppy disk, USB flash memory drives are one of the few areas of IT that have a pronounced sense of humor.

Thumb drives have dressed in the guise rubber duckies, plates of spaghetti, tiki idols and sushi, as well as pulling double duty as executive pens, laser pointers, wrist watches and spy cameras.

Apparently, USB flash drives as comic relief aren't a passing fad, either. As Douglas Krone, CEO of thumb drive reseller Dynamism, put it "once something becomes an everyday item, that's when we want something to be unique about it."

Krone's company sells USB thumb drives that come as actual rubber thumbs, stuffed animals, and mini-SUVs, but his company's hottest selling item is the sushi drive -- flash memory in the raw.

The idea for the sushi drive was born when Kunihiro Kawahara, CEO of Tokyo-based USB manufacturer Solid Alliance, decided he wanted to send a gift to business partners and friends. One day while walking through Tokyo's restaurant district, he took in the ubiquitous wax sushi replicas adorning restaurant windows and decided it was a match. "(Solid Alliance) happened upon this incredible phenomenon," Krone said. The company isn't alone. Dolling up USB drives has become something like a cottage industry, with new designs appearing regularly.

Charles King, an analyst at Pund-IT Research, says like the cell phone and MP3 player, the thumb drive's miniature size has collided with the infinite uses for resin material.

"The one drive I saw that was probably the most twisted was a Barbie Doll where you pull the head off to plug it in," King said.

Promo sells thumbs drives that are housed in Swiss Army knives, that come in waterproof, leather and aluminum cases. There's even an iPromo model that embedded with genuine Austrian Swarovski crystal designed to be worn as a necklace.

Thumb drives are priced from low-end 128MB models selling for US$9 all the way up to US$200 for an 8GB consumer model. The best sellers, according to vendors, are the 1GB and 2GB models. On average, a 4GB drive will go for about US$100.

When it comes to small storage, the flash drive is king. Reseller Memory Suppliers, sells the MIB 64MB iStick, which it claims is the world's smallest USB thumb drive at a wafer-thin 2.8mm (about .011 of an inch) thick.

Memory Suppliers also sells several iterations of the flash memory drive including the Presidio Pen, which incorporates a USB drive with a Pen and MP3 player.

"Today, you really can carry your laptop around with you on your key chain. So why not make it fun?" King says.

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