Sandisk CEO sees flashier future [pg. 17]

In the future, according to Sandisk, you can say goodbye to your MP3 player, cell phone and PDA - and instead, say hello to a single device that includes not only those functions, but one that will let you watch video and TV on the run as well. And best of all, it'll cost less than most of those available single-function devices currently cost. The future is in digital convergence, and that convergence will be powered by flash memory in its various forms. That scenario is just fine by Eli Harari, CEO of Sandisk, the undisputed world leader in the manufacture and supply of flash memory. At a "forward looking" press conference in Tel Aviv last week, he revealed some of Sandisk's future marketing and technology plans. The company has been around since 1988, and has been responsible for many of the innovations in the flash memory field, such as MMC, SD, and microSD flash memory. Despite much recent progress in flash storage capacity and speed, Harari says, the industry is in its infancy, roughly at the same level of technology "where microprocessors were in 1985," when the Intel 386 chip was the hot new item. Flash is small, fast and, most importantly for consumers, cheap - and getting cheaper, he says. Current prices for microSD cards is around three cents per megabyte of storage, which compares more or less favorably with the cost of hard drive storage, averaging two cents per megabyte. But flash drives are smaller - often much smaller than hard drives, and are often much faster. The size and speed advantages make them perfect for the converged future, Harari says, as consumers will be seeking lightweight all-in-one products - at an affordable price. And Sandisk plans on cashing in. The company has been aggressively marketing its "iPod Nano killer," the Sansa series, which has models to match iPod Nanos, and a price about $20/$30 less than the Apple product. "I really think our product is better," says Harari. But Sansas are just the beginning. As flash gets cheaper to produce, prices will come down on these and other devices, so that even advanced convergence products will be affordable to the billion or so consumers in China, India, Russia and Brazil who want iPods, cell phones that play music and take pictures, or all-in-one PDA/MP3/cell phone/video player devices. Look for such devices to be developed over the next couple of years, Harari says - and yes, we Israelis will be able to buy them too.