Development work on Sony's Memory Stick Rom platform has been slower than expected, with mass production of MS Rom products expected only after April or June. The Japanese electronics giant is trying to rally developer support for its new removable, write-once flash-memory card format for playback only to win backing from companies wanting to distribute data such as music samples, games, books and maps. Users will not be able to change the contents and it is cheaper to produce on MS Rom than rewritable cards. Only one company, Japan-based FueTrek, makes MS Rom products. According to its marketing division manager Nori Imai three products are ready but are not widely available. They are an interactive English-language learning text, a pocket dictionary and a Tokyo city map. FueTrek has an alliance with United States publisher Ryan McNally to produce MS Rom versions of its maps. Mr Imai said: 'We are still looking for Hong Kong content providers. I think the most possible platform is on personal digital assistant and content such as learning materials and games might be very popular.' FueTrek had no plans to set up an office in Hong Kong. Mr Imai said that mass production of its three MS Rom products would begin in April and, in the MS Duo format, a shorter version of the Memory Stick available at 32 megabyte and 64 MB capacities would begin in June. Last year's figures from market research firm NPD Intelect indicated the United States' market share for competing technologies Compact Flash and SmartMedia had fallen, while Memory Stick's share had increased. In the first quarter of 2000, Compact Flash held 51 per cent of the market. SmartMedia controlled 41 per cent. Memory Stick trailed far behind with 7 per cent. In the same quarter a year later, Compact Flash had dropped to a 40 per cent market share and SmartMedia was down to 32 per cent. Meanwhile, Memory Stick had captured 25 per cent. In Hong Kong, the Memory Stick market share is slightly higher - 27 per cent. One reason for the rapid uptake of Sony's storage format is its use across many of its popular product lines. Another reason is Sony's decision to abandon royalty fees for developers. Companies are required to pay a one-time licensing fee. Sony Hong Kong division managing director for marketing, Susumu Kitadai said: 'Hong Kong is a market that closely mimics Japan's and it has one of the highest ratio of Memory Stick early adopters.' He acknowledged that Sony's popularity would drive some MS sales, but pointed out there were more companies adopting the MS platform for their products. 'At CES 2002 earlier this month, there were car manufacturers using the MS format. Furthermore, the format is no longer most identified with the digital-audio-video and imaging niche because of the wide range of applications which are in development,' Mr Kitadai said. Sony has a number of MS-based products in the pipeline, including a small digital still camera. The working prototype on display at Sony's two-day Memory Stick Developers' conference at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre has a colour liquid crystal display screen with a resolution of 350,000 pixels. Mr Kitadai said commercial versions of the camera that used MS only for storage would be available this year or early next. Another prototype on display, a sleek wristwatch which doubles as a digital still camera and uses MS Duo for storage, might also make it to shop shelves. Sony sells Memory Sticks in 8 MB to 128 MB capacities. The company expects to release a 256 MB, 512 MB and one-gigabyte version before March next year.