Would You Put A FISH In Your Camera?

If you own several different portable digital devices, chances are you also own several different types of portable media.

With devices using Compact Flash, Smart Media, MMC (Multi-Media Card), Memory Stick, Memory Stick Duo, Secure Digital, Mini-SD and xD-Picture Cards, the choice of what product you buy can be influenced by the type of media used just as much as the specifications of the device.

We all knew Sony?s use of 1.44MB floppy disks for their cameras wouldn?t last long, but supporters of each subsequent media type have all said that their solution would be ?the standard? in the future. To this day there is still no clear-cut winner.

Well add FISH to the growing number of form-factors that claim to be the next ?standard? that all devices will use. A new consortium thinks that you will be storing your digital images, music and data on their FISH sticks.

On February 5, the Universal Transportable Memory Association (UTMA) announced the FISH standard. At first glance, besides featuring a name that beckons for clever headlines, the Flash Internal Semiconductor Harddrive (FISH) seems to be not much more than a USB2.0 flash drive in a smaller form factor.

What makes the FISHheads so confident that their solution will be the ?next big thing?? According to the UTMA Website, FISH will ?revolutionize mobile computing? because it can plug into any USB port and ?FISH Memory cards are smaller than both SD and xD picture cards, transfer data very quickly, and are rugged enough to carry in your pocket (using the available fob).? The UTMA is also saying that FISH sticks can already be produced with 2GB of storage, with the potential for a 16GB stick in the near future.

All this does sound promising. Imagine being able to use the same media for your PDA, camera, cell-phone, MP3 player and other digital devices. Imagine being able to store an entire operating system and all of your files on a device smaller than a postage stamp. With no drivers required for any recent operating system, the FISH media would be recognized instantly and easily used by experts and novices alike. Add to that the promise of FISH being smaller than all but one current form-factor as well as rugged and easy to carry on a key ring, it sounds like a great idea.

But do we need yet another media type? Better yet, will manufacturers ever be able to agree on one form-factor? The UTMA?s research noted on their Website states that ?87% of consumers prefer a camera with a FISH memory product over the same-priced camera with a legacy memory product.? Unfortunately they don?t tell how large the sample of consumers polled was or the type of consumers they were so take those numbers with a grain of salt. Even without solid numbers, it can be assumed that most people would welcome a standard media type that is secure, portable, durable, and can store large amounts of data.

The USB interface does seem to be the logical choice for portable media. Almost all computers have USB ports, and most are easily accessible. However, today?s storage media are easily hooked up to USB-based multi-card readers that can be purchased for less than $10 or $20, and readers are included in many new computers now. Convincing consumers, retailers, and manufacturers to completely alter their current processes seems to be daunting task. In fact, it seems to be a nearly impossible task. There will always be companies that think they have the ?next best thing?, consumers that favor one brand or form-factor over another, manufacturers that refuse to change, and retailers that can?t afford to totally change their inventory.

Companies like SanDisk and Kingston will not stop manufacturing Compact Flash or Memory Sticks. Consumers won?t just throw away their ?legacy? devices at once in order to have a slightly more convenient way of storing their data. And with consumers continuing to use their legacy devices, manufacturers will find ways of making higher capacity ?legacy? storage media at cheaper prices.

In 1999, I bought an 80MB SanDisk Compact Flash card for an astonishing $249. Today, I can buy a 1GB card for around $200 and a 128MB card for about $200 less than I spent on the 80MB card. Add FISH to the competition and those prices will get even lower. SanDisk has just released new versions of their flash storage products as ?consumables? and lowered the price yet again.

The FISH sticks will come in two different flavors ? a standard FISH and a ?baby FISH.? A standard FISH stick is about 1.3 inches long and is as wide and thick as a USB port. At .11 cubic inches, it is smaller than all other formats except for the xD cards, which are about .05 cubic inches. The footprint of the FISH stick is the smallest of all storage media. The baby FISH are 25% smaller than the standard FISH sticks, and are intended for very small devices.

Besides the size and speed advantages touted by FISH, the format is designed to be secure and safe. According to the Website, FISH has several layers of security. As they describe it, ?FISH security algorithms can completely protect certain user information and more casually protect other information, depending on the user’s needs.?

Eventually, they say that ?FISH could contain credit card or account numbers (completely protected) and work data (password protected) on the same FISH stick with completely different security access features.?

With quotes such as ?I’d pay a hundred dollars more to get a FISH camera? or ?Sweeeeeet!? and ?Awesome!? from anonymous consumers and retailers, the UTMA Website may seem more like an infomercial than a consortium of high-profile manufacturers. Their ?FISH Memory Adoption? page states that the number of consumer companies that are designing FISH memory products is ?several?.

The UTMA says that 47 people from 34 different companies participated in the development of the FISH standard. They say they are contractually obligated to not reveal who the participating manufacturers are until they make their own announcements, so we?ll be looking in the near future for such news. According to the UTMA the first FISH-based products will start appearing mid-2004, with a large number in late 2004. They state that ?FISH will likely become the dominant memory device sometime in the next 2 years.?

While a universal standard with the features said to be implemented with FISH would be welcomed by many, the question still stands: is this even possible? While the UTMA makes it sound like they are unveiling something that the majority of consumers will quickly adopt, the Website may present more questions than answers. Yet, the idea is quite intriguing.

What do you think? Is a universal standard of portable storage a good idea? Will one ever be adopted by the masses?

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