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THE CUTTING EDGE | HEARD ON THE BEAT / IN ORANGE COUNTY

The Future of the Information Age Is in the Cards

July 01, 1996|GREG MILLER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The technology gods tell us that in the not-so-distant future, our cameras won't use film and our tape recorders won't use tape. So what will they use?

That depends on whom you ask. Three companies--including Toshiba in Irvine as well as Intel and Sandisk in Santa Clara--have three slightly different ideas. Trouble is, high-tech history dating back to the Beta-VHS videotape wars tells us that only one can win.

All three companies are developing tiny card-like devices that store more information than a floppy disk and that could be plugged into a number of consumer electronic products.

Toshiba, for instance, is making a card that is one-third the size of a credit card and could be used to store pictures taken by a digital camera, the sounds recorded by an audio recorder or even telephone number directories that could be plugged into a cellular phone.

Toshiba hopes that the cards become the floppy disks of the hand-held electronics industry, and that they will eventually even be embraced by computer manufacturers. That way, consumers could take pictures with their digital cameras, pull out the miniature disk, plug it into their computers and print out the pictures on their color printers, said Doug Wong, an engineer at Toshiba America Electronic Components in Irvine.

Intel and Sandisk have similar aims for their cards. All three use basically the same technology: so-called flash memory that can store lots of information and can be erased in an instant for reuse.

Analysts say no clear leader has emerged.

"The battle is wide open right now," said Connie Batchelder, an analyst at In-Stat, a market research firm based in Arizona. She added that there's a lot at stake, with sales projected to soar from $2.7 million this year to $320 million within five years.

That means each of these companies is scrambling to link arms with as many other high-tech companies as possible, forming technological teams committed to one standard. Each team has its own big-name players: Intel has Advanced Micro Devices, Sandisk has Eastman Kodak and Toshiba has Samsung, Batchelder said.

Some big-name players have yet to make up their minds and in the meantime have joined more than one team, she said. Hewlett-Packard, for instance, has lined up behind both Intel and Sandisk.

Greg Miller covers high technology for The Times. He can be reached at (714) 966-7830 and at greg.miller@latimes.com

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