Some mobile device experts are questioning whether Sonys new Memory Stick Micro format will expand beyond the companys own products, and whether the firms device storage technologies will eventually lose their appeal with customers.
On Thursday, Tokyo-based Sony Corp. and its longtime partner SanDisk Corp. rolled out the specifications for Memory Stick Micro, a tiny storage technology designed for use in compact mobile phones and other diminutive devices.
The format is just the latest, and smallest, iteration of the portable Memory Stick family, which Sony has used in many different types of products since its 1998 introduction.
Despite the fact that Sony has signed on a long list of companies to support its storage platforms over the years, including Advanced Micro Devices Inc., Ericsson, IBM, Kyocera Corp., NEC Corp. and Toshiba America Inc., at least a handful of analysts said they believe that the Memory Stick Micro technology will reside primarily in Sonys own products, rather than gaining momentum as an industry standard.
The format will compete with other emerging device storage technologies in addition to standards such as SD (Secure Digital) and Micro Flash, which are already in large numbers of products.
If substantial numbers of manufacturers eschew Sonys storage design in favor of other, more widely adopted standards, buyers will be forced to decide whether they want to commit to Sonys family of phones, entertainment devices, computers and cameras, said Martin Reynolds, analyst with Gartner Inc., based in Stamford, Conn.
Reynolds said he believes that consumers, faced with an increasing multitude of electronics vendors, are less likely to do so than ever before.
“Customers may not want to buy into individual memory platforms, so [Memory Stick Micro] could be a big mistake for them,” Reynolds said.
“Most devices will choose from several major standards, as we have today with SD and Micro Flash, so users may see the use of something different as a liability. Sony has always made its money off of people who only buy Sony [products], but I think there are fewer consumers like that out there with so many alternatives on the market.”
Sony representatives based in the United States declined to comment on the criticism, but pointed out that the storage technology has not yet been tabbed for use in any specific products. Representatives at Sonys Japanese headquarters werent immediately available to reply.
Mike Wang, a spokesman for SanDisk of Sunnyvale, Calif., argued that his companys involvement in designing and supporting the Memory Stick Micro format will provide a network of manufacturers who will adopt the technology in their products.
Wang contended that there could be room for a larger number of storage technologies than some experts may believe, and that other vendors wont be turned off by Sonys involvement in the standard.
“Sony doesnt want [Memory Stick Micro] to be a proprietary format; theyre making a serious effort to get more companies like us onboard, and we can be the neutral second party that helps evangelize the technology to others,” Wang said.
He pointed to Sonys Memory Stick Development effort, which lists a wide number of different technology providers who have licensed earlier versions of its storage formats, as proof that the standard isnt going to remain exclusive to the manufacturers own devices.
Proprietary Technology May Lose
Other market watchers said that despite Sonys best intentions, the newest Memory Stick platform isnt likely to become widely used by other vendors.
Sam Bhavnani, analyst with San Diego-based Current Analysis, said SanDisks involvement is a positive, but that other device makers are probably going to choose device storage standards that are less tied to their head-to-head rivals.
“The macro issue here, is that, as with other technologies, Sony doesnt want to play the same game as everyone else, and in some cases, such as portable media players, its really hurt them,” Bhavnani said.
“SanDisk could help them take [Memory Stick Micro] more mainstream than its older storage platforms, but ultimately consumers will decide who wins this battle with what types of devices they choose to buy.”
Bhavnani agreed that Sony no longer holds the same elite position in the electronics market that it once did, and that the company could have a hard time convincing consumers to pay higher prices for devices, based on the money it has spent developing the storage system.
“The days of people paying a huge premium for Sony are over,” he said.
However, Bhavnani pointed out that the companys newly appointed chief executive, Howard Stringer, may be able to push the firm into moving away from its more proprietary roots.
By adopting more widely used industry standards for technologies such as storage, Bhavnani said, the company may be able to regain some of its momentum. He pointed to the inclusion of SD memory slots in the firms next-generation PlayStation console as proof that Sony may be learning the lesson already.
Stephen Baker, an analyst with the NPD Group, New York, said Sonys desire to become a technology standards provider is based firmly in its hope to encourage consumers to buy its own hardware. Whether or not Memory Stick Micro catches on with other firms, he said, is purely a matter of volume.
“You have to imagine that some of these memory standards will fade away, as manufacturers arent going to be willing to invest in them if there arent sufficient numbers of device sales to defend the time and money that goes into building them,” Baker said. “The most popular devices will drive the memory market.”
Baker added, “The big knock on Sony has been that their technology is basically proprietary to their own products, and you can imagine that if they began to see lower volumes of device sales, that could be a big problem for Memory Stick.”
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