SD Card wins a quiet victory
The most important detail in this morning's press release from Olympus about the imminent availability of two new digital cameras comes 66 lines down:
Olympus' new Spring 2010 digital compact cameras offer SD capability for up to 32 gigabytes of capacity.
With the arrival of those models, one of the longest-running, most pointless format wars in electronics will end: Every major digital-camera vendor will sell multiple devices that accept industry-standard SD Cards.
Most of the industry settled on that 10-year-old format early in the last decade--having already moved on from such competing technologies as floppy disks (no, really), recordable CDs, Compact Flash cards and SmartMedia cards. But Sony stuck with its older, proprietary Memory Stick, while Fuji and Olympus had their newer, equally proprietary xD-Picture Card.
Owners of cameras that used those non-standard formats gained no significant performance advantages but had to deal with a variety of real or potential issues. They risked paying more for memory of the same capacity--or not finding their camera's memory sold at all in smaller stores. Cards borrowed from friends were less likely to work in their camera. And if they owned a smaller computer, such as an ultralight or netbook laptop, they would probably find that it only had an SD Card slot.
("SD" stands for "Secure Digital," a reference to "digital rights management" usage-control features that were engineered into the format to win support from the recording industry--and which have since been almost completely ignored in the market.)
For those reasons, I've been recommending SD-compatible cameras since at least 2005. Among the holdout manufacturers, Fuji was the first to cave; in January of 2007, it announced that its upcoming cameras would accept both SD and xD memory. At last month's Consumer Electronics Show, Sony followed suit, not only debuting a series of SD-compatible cameras and camcorders but also launching its own line of SD Cards. Olympus then unveiled its own SD-capable models; one shipped last month and others, as noted above, arrive this month.
So we now have a removable-storage format even more compatible than the floppy disk once was. You can take an SD Card and move it from camera to camcorder to laptop to desktop (longtime holdout Apple finally got around to adding SD Card slots last year) to some TVs and DVD or Blu-ray players. In turn, most non-Apple smartphones use microSD cards--one sits in the foreground of the picture above--that, when snuggled into an adapter sleeve, function in regular-sized SD slots.
It's too bad some of these companies didn't pay attention to tech forecasts sooner. Five years ago, the trends looked obvious, but as far back as xD's 2002 launch, smart observers of the market didn't see a need for yet another incompatible storage medium. That's left us with a large backlog of Memory Sticks, xD-Picture Cards and devices that can only use those formats. If you happen to own one of those things, what's your reaction on having bought into the losing end of a format war?
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