By David S. Joachim
The New York Times
December 5, 2007
When flash drives came on the scene nearly eight years ago, they were given all kinds of nicknames: thumb drives, for their small shape and size; or key drives, for how they plugged into a computer’s U.S.B. slot.
Today, the guts of these little data suitcases have become so compact — and inexpensive — that they are finding their way into everyday items like pens, bracelets, picture frames, clock radios and even car stereos, making it tempting to give them a new name: invisidrives.
Manufacturers are adding these brains to some unlikely products in time for the holidays. For the woman on your shopping list who likes a bit of substance with her style, there is the heart-shaped stainless steel pendant that opens to reveal a one-gigabyte flash drive.
It is part of a line of techno-fashion accessories from the crystal maker Swarovski and Philips Electronics that also includes a crystal-studded decorative lock that doubles as a flash drive.
“Women are much more tech-savvy than men give them credit for,” said Henk S. de Jong, a general manager at Philips. He added that in studies that Philips conducted, women said their tech gadgets “should be like an accessory, so when I’m not using it, it should still look great.”
There are many men’s accessories with built-in flash drives, including wristwatches and even the venerable Swiss Army knife, said Joseph Unsworth, a principal analyst at Gartner, the research firm. Nevertheless, he questions whether women, especially in the United States, want their jewelry to be practical.
“It’s kind of geeky to have jewelry that doubles as a flash drive,” he said. “Are you going to risk buying that for your wife for Christmas? I’m sure I’m not.”
Mr. Unsworth said that such items might have more success in Asia, where women are known to be more enthusiastic about technology and less likely to see techno-jewelry as nerdy.
The heart pendant ($180) and lock ($180) are available at some Macy’s and Best Buy stores and at Swarovski shops.
Tiny flash drives are also helping to modernize accordion-style wallet photo albums. The WalletPix from IdeaVillage — the “As Seen on TV” people — is a credit-card-size device that holds about 50 digital photos transferred from your computer. It has a 1.5-inch liquid crystal display and two arrows for flipping through the album.
The WalletPix comes in black or white plastic. It is available at stores like Wal-Mart, Sears, CVS and Bed Bath & Beyond, as well as online, for about $30.
The data capacity of flash drives is also ballooning, with one- and two-gigabyte models becoming common and the latest models ranging up to 16 gigabytes, making them all practical alternatives to DVDs for storing and transferring big video files.
The TakeTV from SanDisk, for example, uses flash technology to solve the basic problem of moving videos from the computer to the television without running cables across the house or setting up a wireless-video system.
Once you connect TakeTV’s docking station to your television using the cables that are included, the set becomes a flash-drive reader, allowing videos downloaded from SanDisk’s Fanfare online service to play like DVDs.
“There are very few PCs that look good in the living room,” said Ross Rubin, director of industry analysis at the NPD Group research company. He said that wireless options like Apple TV were relatively expensive, starting around $300, and that flash technology could “ease the process of bringing video from the computer to the TV.”
TakeTV has a remote control and comes in four gigabytes (about $100) and eight gigabytes (about $150). It is available at Amazon.com, Buy.com and in most major electronics stores.
Mr. Unsworth, the analyst, said it was only a matter of time before televisions are routinely equipped with U.S.B. ports for digital video, just as car stereos are beginning to feature them.
He envisions lots of creative uses for flash drives in the near future, like keeping track of a car’s diagnostics and maintenance schedule, or even doubling as a digital wallet, allowing transactions to be recorded on miniature versions of financial software like Quicken.
Meanwhile, they are helpful for filling out the holiday gift list.
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