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Palm to support Secure Digital memory card format

Turns back on PalmOS licensee Sony's Memory Stick

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Palm is to back the fledgling Secure Digital Memory Card (SDMC) 'solid state floppy' format, supporting the technology in the PalmOS and buidling handhelds with SDMC slots by next year.

A recipe for conflict, you might think, given PalmOS licensee Sony will be supporting the company's own Memory Stick format, and fellow licensee Handspring is pushing its own Springboard expansion system. To make matters worse, PalmOS licensee TRG uses yet another add-in format: Compact Flash.

To date, Palm has been criticised for offering only a proprietary expansion system with its handhelds. Clearly, the decision to support SDMC is an attempt to provide an industry standard slot for extra memory and the like. SDMC isn't yet a standard, but it does have the backing of 90 companies, and is likely to become a major force in the next-generation solid state storage market, particularly now manufacturers are seeking a unified format for all devices, from digital cameras to MP3 players.

Sony, of course, feels it's technology is better than everyone else's, and feels the industry should back its Memory Stick format, much as it's trying to establish its Super Audio CD format in the face of the more widely backed DVD Audio format. Sony's upcoming PalmOS-based handheld will almost certainly support Memory Stick.

That's fair enough - Sony can certainly support whatever technologies it wishes and modify the PalmOS accordingly. Ditto Handspring. While there's some cross-over, Springboard and Memory Stick/SDMC are addressing two different roles. Springboard is about adding extra functionality to the basic handheld, whereas the other two formats are geared toward the storage of data and its transfer between devices. We might see tiny SDMC-based modems the size of a postage stamp, but pagers, cellphone links, GPS readers? We doubt it.

Of course, Palm doesn't actually want Palm handhelds to be expandable in this way. Palm's licensing programme - and the business model based around it - is predicated on a series of PalmOS-based devices dedicated to specific tasks, not a generic device that can be easily modified by the user, which is Handspring's philosophy. Since Springboard is available to all third parties under an open licence - Handspring wants to encourage the format's establishment as a standard - Palm could easily add Springboard to its devices. Clearly it doesn't want to.

But does that matter? Certainly there's an issue of market fragmentation here for Palm, but with Handspring shooting up the retail charts, it's building itself a sufficient userbase to attract peripherals vendors into supporting Springboard. Sony, meanwhile, is tenacious enough to push Memory Stick no matter what - just look at its strategy with MiniDisc. Meanwhile, Palm has set in stone the template for future PalmOS licensees to follow. It has selected SDMC and if licensees want to go their own way, that's their lookout. ®

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