Matrix Semiconductor, Inc. has introduced a low-cost, write-once flash memory chip called Matrix 3-D Memory (3DM) that could create an important new content delivery platform for devices such as cell phones, PDAs, and media players equipped with a memory card slot.
"What we're creating and delivering is a new category of memory," according to Dan Steere, VP of marketing at Matrix. Matrix has developed a new three-dimensional chip-manufacturing technique that greatly reduces the cost of non-volatile flash memory (where content doesn't disappear when you shut off the device), and offers manufacturers and consumers the ability to write to the chip one time and read many times (just as you can do with a CD-ROM disc).
The first products using these chips are hitting the streets this Fall and more are expected over the next year. This new technology could have broad implications for content producers; possible uses include music and video delivery, games, applications, books, reference materials, and databases.
Rob Enderlee, an industry analyst from the Enderlee Group who has been covering technology since the early 90s, thinks 3DM will change content delivery via portable devices. "They are the missing link," he says. "We have had read-only media for music, games, and certain types of applications for a very long time, but haven't had read-only, non-volatile memory for much of anything. I would argue that there has been a segment of this market waiting for a low-cost way to deliver software to multiple portable devices." Enderlee also points out that this is a much lower cost medium than typical flash media.
In the past, the high cost of memory kept this type of delivery system out of reach of many publishers. Steer says, "The economics didn't work out for a lot of publishers to afford to put their content on a chip and sell their content at reasonable price points. [By] bringing the price point down for solid state memory, it now becomes a medium that is affordable for publishers to use."
This could have an especially big effect in the digital music and video markets by providing a low-cost delivery system for video and music content on portable players. "One example is that there are certain types of players coming out later this year—portable media players—something that fits in your pocket with a backlit color screen that takes memory cards or cartridges and plays full video or music," says Steere. Mattel released one such player in October they have dubbed the "Juicebox," a handheld video and music player that uses pre-recorded cartridges based on Matrix 3-D Memory as the means to store and play content.
Enderlee predicts other possible uses such as using blank 3DM chips in portable devices to record video and music from content kiosks in malls, train stations, or airports. "Consumers could go to a kiosk, select songs, and have them delivered on a read-only medium, with DRM maintained, to an iPod or RealPlayer without the likelihood that they could share them broadly with friends or neighbors, something that content providers have wanted to [eliminate]," he says.
Another possible use for 3DM is as digital film. Unlike conventional digital camera flash memory, which you can write to many times, consumers could purchase a 3DM chip and use it in the same way they use film cameras by taking the pictures, then taking the chip to a shop to make prints. Enderlee sees this as an attractive model to some consumers who are used to the film paradigm. "You have a large number of people who want to do it the way they have always done it. This would allow them to use the digital camera very much like a film camera," according to Enderlee.
Enderlee believes the initial 3DM chips will come with content on them and that the blank chip market (with the exception of the digital film scenario) will take off as capacities increase. "Utility increases as capacity increases," he says.