A compelling technology, flash memory continues its march through the consumer electronics industry, yet again doubling quickly in capacity and dropping in price. In its wake, the wreckage of other, once proud, technologies and products — the floppy disk wiped from computers by the USB drive, the CD Audio disc humbled by portable flash players, and tape-based video cameras that now seem clunky compared to smaller flash cams. And next in the sights: computer hard drives giving way to faster and more rugged Solid-State devices.
Again this year, Doug Dixon of Manifest Technologies worked the January Consumer Electronics Show to scope out the new products. This year’s show saw even more examples of the impact of flash memory: rugged HD camcorders, replacement solid state storage devices, Wi-Fi integrated on SD memory cards, new formats promising 2 terabyte memory cards, and card slots everywhere, from mobile phones to HDTV displays. Dixon returned to Lunch ‘n Learn on April 15 to explore the developing trends in the rise of flash memory and to show off dozens of fun, new, high-tech gadgets. His web site, contains his Lunch ‘n Learn presentation, as well as more than 200 additional articles and a blog about a range of technology topics. The site also contains more detailed information about the products that Dixon demonstrated during his talk.
In his talk, Dixon emphasized that flash-based Solid State Drives (SSDs) are beginning to encroach on the domain of hard disk drives (HDD): they weigh less, they are more rugged (with no mechanical parts or spinning platters), they are more power efficient (with 10 to 15 percent longer battery life), they can withstand more heat, vibration, and shock, and they offer significantly faster performance, so such systems will be able start up and launch applications twice as fast.
SSDs are moving from an extra-cost option (as in the Apple MacBook Air) to a cost-effective option for upgrading older systems. For example, rather than replacing an old laptop, you can swap in a solid state drive to make the systems feel young again, with a clearly visible performance boosts for disk-intensive operations.
While you can look forward to your next notebook using SSD storage, the industry has plenty of uses for SSD right now.
Dixon showed off and passed around iPods, iPhones, digital cameras, camcorders, portable computers, and portable game stations, but it’s the mobile phones that have truly captured the market. “There are billions of mobile phones out there,” says Dixon, and they are much more than just telephones. They play music and movies, they support a growing range of applications, and of course, they reach the web.
Ten years ago, he noted, we stored our documents on floppy drives. Our cameras held 36 photos on a roll of film. Tape players recorded music. Today we are seeing a remarkable increase in storage capacity that is outpacing even the predictions of Moore’s Law. Very tiny USB drives can store thousands of documents and photos and songs. In 2006, says Dixon, $14 bought a 128 MB SD memory card. Today, that same price buys 4 GB — five re-doublings in just three years, with an enormous impact on consumer electronics.
Douglas Dixon is an independent technology consultant, author, and speaker specializing in digital media. A graduate of Brown University, and previously a product manager and software developer at Intel and Sarnoff in Princeton, he is the author of four books and has published over 250 feature articles. Doug is currently editor-in-chief of Mediaware magazine and writes for Digital Photographer and Condé Nast Traveler magazine and the U.S. 1 Newspaper in Princeton. He has presented over 95 seminars and talks on digital media over the past eight years. Doug makes his articles and technical references freely available on his Manifest Technology blog and website.
A podcast is available.