There were plenty of new products from flash-memory kings Sandisk and Lexar Media at this year's CeBIT exhibition, including new mini flash cards for use in mobile phones. There are now at least seven major flash-card formats available: Secure Digital (SD), miniSD, xD-Picture card, MultiMediaCard (MMC), CompactFlash, Memory Stick, Memory Stick Duo and Memory Stick Pro. Analysts say that, unlike the DVD format wars, the market and demand for flash cards are large enough to support multiple types. With adapters and card readers that can take multiple formats, incompatibility problems are reduced. However, consumers are understandably confused by the proliferation of new flash cards. Sony's Memory Stick alone comes in three formats. The MS Duo is a short version of the Memory Stick meant for small, portable devices such as mobile phones and audio players. The recently introduced Memory Stick Pro, though it looks just like the Memory Stick, is a high-capacity, high-speed format which Sony officials say can store up to 32 gigabytes. At present, however, only a 128 megabytes, 512MB and 1GB Memory Stick Pro are available. As one of the largest consumer electronics manufacturers in the world, Sony can ensure its memory cards are adopted. Its new digital cameras, audio players and recorders, and personal digital assistants feature slots that can support both the Memory Stick and MS Pro formats. So far, its MS Duo format is used only in Sony-Ericsson mobile phones, whereas the SD format pioneered by Matsushita and Toshiba is more widely adopted. The new, smaller format is part of a growing trend among makers of removable flash memory cards to shrink their products to better suit the size and voltage requirements of mobile phones. Small is desired and a number of new flash cards have emerged to compete against the MS Duo. At CeBIT, Sandisk introduced the miniSD format, which is a smaller version of the original SD card. At just 21.5mm long, 20mm wide and 1.4mm thick, it is the smallest of the new breed of memory cards for mobile phones. Last July, camera makers Olympus and Fuji Photo Film announced a replacement for the SmartMedia format, called the xD-Picture Card. In late November, Hitachi announced a smaller version of the MultiMediaCard format, called the Reduced Size MultiMediaCard. It is available in limited quantities in Japan and is expected to launch overseas in about a year. The mobile phone market presents a major opportunity for memory card makers as phones incorporate digital cameras, audio players and PDA functions that call for more storage capacity. Removable flash memory cards use solid-state memory, so they are not prone to skipping and can recall information faster than disks. Research firm International Data Corp expects worldwide memory card shipments to increase from 52.7 million units last year to 271.2 million units in 2006, mostly due to the proliferation of digital devices using memory cards. IDC said shipments of cards used in mobile phones should soar from 600,000 units in 2001 to nearly 150 million in 2006, and revenue should increase from US$990 million last year to US$2.2 billion in 2006. With the emphasis on miniaturising, the most established format, CompactFlash, is losing the race even though it boasts the highest capacity for any memory card. At CeBIT, Taiwan's Pretec Electronics introduced the world's first 6GB CompactFlash card at the impossible price of US$7,499. Also at CeBIT, Sandisk announced a 4GB Type 1 CompactFlash card. Lexar Media announced 2GB and 4GB Compact Flash cards this month. The 2GB card should be available in Hong Kong this month and is expected to sell for about HK$7,800. Lexar's 4GB card, due out later this year, is more costly at HK$11,690. Sandisk officials say a 4GB Compact Flash card is enough to store a full-length DVD movie. Sandisk's Extreme Compact Flash format boasts transfer rates of six megabits per second, which makes it good enough for video. Sony's Memory Stick Pro, with theoretical speeds of 15Mbps, was developed for high-quality video recording. While prices of this high-capacity media will need to come down, the time when flash cards take the place of Hi8 cassette tapes in camcorders is just a year to 18 months away. Got a gadget idea? Drop Carolyn a line at firstname.lastname@example.org .