Open Platform Expands The USB Flash Drive Market Beyond Storage - Embedded.com

Open Platform Expands The USB Flash Drive Market Beyond Storage

M-Systems and SanDisk announced the creation of the U3 platform; a new hardware and software platform that will expand the USB flash drive market beyond storage. The goal of U3 LLC, based in Redwood City, California, is to transform the USB flash drive market from simple storage devices into exciting new consumer products that people can use to carry, store and launch their own applications and data on any PC wherever they go.

Announced at the Consumer Electronics Show 2005, U3 will create an expanded market of innovative applications for one of the fastest-growing consumer electronics devices in history. Analysts predict that more than 70 million USB drives will sell in 2005. M-Systems and SanDisk are innovators and leaders of the USB flash drive market, and will provide substantial related IP and technical expertise to the U3 platform. Consumers have quickly embraced USB flash drive technology for its ability to transport large amounts of data from one PC to another. Because of its success, new vendor specific solutions have emerged in an attempt to use USB flash drives for more than storage. However, these efforts have been hampered by a lack of the standardization required to ensure multi-vendor interoperability and compatibility. There are no standards today that enable an independent software developer to create applications that are portable and secure for all USB flash drives. However, consumers who buy U3-compliant USB Flash drives will have the ability to take U3-compliant applications with them wherever they go.

The U3 platform includes a hardware specification as well as Application Program Interfaces (APIs) for software developers to access the unique mobility and security features available on these devices. U3 drives will contain a Launch Pad desktop interface to simplify viewing, launching, downloading and managing all U3 compliant applications stored on the devices.

U3's suite of software development tools will make it possible for software applications to store and retrieve data on a U3 device, enhance security by accessing the U3 platform standard features, and mobilize applications so they can be carried and launched on any computer. With the number of portable applications expected to be available, USB flash drive vendors may bundle applications that will appeal to specific market segments, such as healthcare applications, gaming, business productivity and more.

“U3 creates a new, open, standard platform that will take USB flash drives from the simple storage devices they are today to portable devices that are empowered by rich applications, harnessing the creative energy of a multitude of independent developers,” said Eli Harari, SanDisk's president and chief executive officer. “This platform will dramatically increase the value of USB drives to consumers and developers alike. SanDisk and M-Systems intend to strongly support and promote the U3 platform creating what we hope will become the U3 Economy.”

Building a community of software developers will be a top priority for U3. U3's goal is to attract software developers by providing access to a large and growing base of U3 enabled devices. U3 currently plans to provide developers ongoing support including development tools, business and technical support and a Web-based distribution channel where millions of users will be able to easily purchase and download U3 compatible applications.

“U3 will unite the industry around best-of-breed technology to increase overall value to the consumer and open a whole new world of opportunities for software developers,” said Dov Moran, president and chief executive officer of M-Systems. “U3 plans to build a robust infrastructure for consumers, developers and manufacturers of USB flash drives. The vision of U3 is to expand the USB Flash Drive from its current role as a simple, convenient storage device into a new consumer product that people can use to carry, store and launch their own applications on any PC.”

U3 plans to offer software developers an organization dedicated to developing and maintaining the U3 specifications, plus software development kits and other tools to speed time to market, minimize investment, and provide a robust and standard platform.

“Software applications for flash drives have been largely developed for proprietary devices with limited market opportunity,” said Joe Unsworth analyst at Gartner Inc. “Without a standard, developers were lacking key features to enable mobility and robust security, lacking multi-vendor interoperability, and lacking open, standards-based development tools. Creating a unified standard for USB drive application development will fuel innovation and foster cross-vendor compatibility.”

The first U3-compliant devices are expected to ship by this summer.

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