Rolling Stones Flash New Album

Hoping to usher in a new form of highly portable and more secure digital music, SanDisk has unveiled a new form of flash memory that includes digital rights protection.

SanDisk is touting TrustedFlash as a new, more secure platform for digital music, movies and games. The flash memory cards will be compatible with a range of mobile devices, including smartphones.

A Pricey Alternative

SanDisk unveiled the new product at the CTIA Wireless I.T. & Entertainment Show and backed up the launch by saying that the new Rolling Stones album, “A Bigger Bang,” would be made available in the format. The cards will sell for $39.95 in the US, nearly three times the cost of a CD.

The flash memory will enable content to be released directly on flash cards, known as gruvi cards, or to be downloaded through phones or other devices and put onto the cards by users.

In debuting the product, SanDisk took a shot at Apple’s iPod by noting that the content on TrustedFlash would be compatible across a range of devices that use flash memory, rather than just a proprietary MP3 player or smartphone platform.

SanDisk CEO Eli Harari said he expected the new cards would be “disruptive technology” but would also “enable a whole new world of opportunities in the mobile market.”

In essence, SanDisk is seeking to shift the location where digital rights management (DRM) technology, which limits how often a song can be copied, resides — moving it from the hardware or device itself to the memory component.

“It provides independence from the host, offering consumers true freedom to enjoy the content they own on their cards in numerous host players,” he added. “TrustedFlash cards will unlock a world of premium content to consumers using mobile phones, music players, game players and video players, while providing strong security to content providers.”

Lining Up

The ambitions go well beyond music and movies. SanDisk said a second generation of TrustedFlash cards to be rolled out in 2006 would support a host of additional wireless commerce applications that could enable mobile phones to become more secure platforms for a range of Web-based transactions.

SanDisk said it spent two years developing the new product. Its potential is underscored by the roster of partners that have already announced they would adopt the platform, including EMI Music, handset maker Samsung, Yahoo Music and NDS.

The company said its DRM technology was built on a “high-performance cryptographic engine and tamper-resistant technology.”

Whether that boast will be taken as a challenge that hackers will relish meeting remains to be seen, but if past attempts to build new ways to secure content are any indication, an army of code writers will soon be at work trying to defeat the DRM technology.

“It’s a constant cat-and-mouse game,” said Yankee Group analyst Michael Goodman. “Every advance immediately becomes the target of the day, the thing that people will try to undo or work around.”

The Battle Rages On

The timing is likely no coincidence, coming as it does as Apple appears poised to further solidify its grip on the portable music player market. The new iPod nano appears poised to be one of the hottest gadgets of the upcoming holiday season, one that will help further lock in Apple’s hold on the portable music player market.

A recent Piper Jaffray report predicted that Apple could sell as many iPods in the next two quarters as it has to date — about 27 million.

The nano also uses flash memory technology, but some other iPod models are compatible only with the digital format used at the iTunes Music Store. As a result, Apple gains on both the content and hardware side each time it makes a sale, though analysts have long expected that more open-ended approaches would carry the day in the digital music field.

But for now, Goodman noted, Apple seems capable of finding new ways to grab additional device market share, which makes it the player to beat in the digital music space for at least a while longer.

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