Every so often, it’s a pleasure to break from our current wireless Internet and mobile telecoms coverage and take a look into the far distant future to see where mobile technology will take us in the coming decades. Esoteric technologies like super-miniature hard disk drives (HDDs) and 3-D holographic storage systems promise to radically remake the portable devices—phones, PDAs and iPods—that we tote with us every day. In the future, you’ll be able to stuff far more data into your cell phone than you can into your desktop PC today; and to my surprise this week, I found out that the far distant future isn’t so distant after all.
In this month’s issue of Nikkei Electronics Asia, two articles highlight the progress being made with miniature HDDs and holographic storage.
In Tech Analysis: HDD for Mobile Phones Withstand 1.5-Meter Drop, it’s reported that the “company [that] masters the technology for ultra-miniature (1-inch and below) hard disk drives (HDD) will command mobile phone design” and that “The outstanding attractiveness of an HDD is its enormous storage capacity, which is difficult to achieve with other storage media. The iPod mini amply demonstrated how successful large-capacity storage can be in mobile equipment, using an internal 4-GB HDD to store over 1,000 songs and carve a new market niche.”
As the report’s author points out, the large capacity on the iPod mini was was sufficient for many users to simply dump in all their music CDs. Clearly, as goes raw storage capacity, so goes consumer usage (and purchasing decisions).
Who in the tech (or tech journalism) world hasn’t been steadily upgrading the size of the now-ubiquitous USB flash memory sticks that we all carry around with us? I started with a 64-MB model that cost some $80 30 months ago and have since switched up to a 128-MB model (only slightly more expensive some 15 months later)—and then added a second 128-MB stick.
I also just upgraded the online storage space that I use on MyDocsOnline, an excellent file storage service, from 50 MB to 125 MB.
The convenience of having all my files with me, of being able to easily transport and share large files and of being able to simply plug my USB memory sticks into any modern PC is just too compelling to do without.
If that same multi-megabyte storage and transfer capacity can be integrated into my celly (the one device that I hate leaving home without—and I bet many of you do, too), then I’d be even happier. As its stands, if I’m away from my Net-connected desktop and need access to a file on MyDocsOnline, I have to go find a PC, ask the owner if I can use it, log on and then download the data to my memory stick. It would be so much easier to access the Web via the phone and simply grab the file and store it onboard the disk drive. A cable could be used to connect to any PC via USB for later cross-loading.
Another Nikkei Electronics Asia article reveals that “the development of holographic discs delivering phenomenal capacity is accelerating rapidly,” and refers to research work aimed at enabling 1 terrabyte (TB) of storage on an optical disc 12 cm in diameter. Still too big for a cell phone, but I suspect that may not be too far off.
The development of ultra-large HDD or holographic storage on cell phones won’t be driven by the mobile Internet per se (there’s already plenty of flash-type memory for email, photos and Java & BREW applis). Rather, this technology will be driven by the need to store music files downloaded from the network or uploaded from existing music collections (from other formats), to store all manner of personal data and to transfer audio and video recorded by the on-board cameras.
And if, as the first Nikkei article predicts, phone design will be driven by large-capacity HDD design, then keep your eye on Korea and Japan. It appears that manufacturers in these two countries have an edge of the rest of the world; Samsung has already marketed a phone with a 1.55 GB HDD and the Japanese aren’t far behind.