One-time rivals Toshiba and SanDisk are joining forces with Matsushita Electric Industrial, to develop a 64MB flash memory-card.

The Secure Digital Memory Card (SD Memory Card) will have powerful security features that the three companies hope will become an industry standard.

The presidents of the companies announced that they will jointly develop the SD Memory Card and that they will collaborate on building products - such as Internet music-players and cellular phones - that use the card.

The presidents added they will license the card with an view to making it the standard memory format for next-generation digital devices.

Electronics makers' appetite for flash memory cards is growing and the SD Memory Card's high level of security make it well-suited for transactions on the Internet. Matsushita president Yoichi Morishita and Toshiba chief executive officer and President Nishimuro Taizo said that they will develop Internet music players that use the cards.

"In the next 20 years the engine of growth will be the convergence of consumer electronics and the Internet," said Eli Hariri, president and CEO of SanDisk.

The SD Memory Card has been designed to comply with SDMI (Secure Digital Music Initiative) requirements advocated by much of the music industry, but a SanDisk official refused to talk about the kind of security technology the card employs.

The postage stamp-sized card allows for data-transfer rates of up to 2Mbps, the companies said.

Toshiba, SanDisk and Matsushita will roll out a 256MB version of the card in 2001 and plan to increase the data-transfer speed to 10Mbps, the trio revealed.

The companies refused to disclose the card's price but flash memory - although durable and portable - is still far more expensive than CDs or MDs (mini-discs).

Earlier this month, Toshiba unveiled a 64MB version of its SmartMedia card that will ship from September for 25,000 yen (£132). A 64MB SmartMedia card will hold about one hour of CD-quality music.

Hariri at SanDisk did acknowledge the challenge of cost. "MDs are cost effective," he said. "We think that when we see a cost [for the SD Memory Card] of $10 or 1,000 yen for one hour of music recording, then we can reach a very large market." Hariri admitted, though, that such a price-point was "at least two years away".

SanDisk and Toshiba, who once competed in the flash-memory market, already have flash memory cards on the market. The companies emphasized that they will continue to support their products, even after the launch of the SD Memory Card.

Samples of the 32MB and 64MB SD Memory Cards will ship in the first quarter of next year and the card is expected to move into full production in the second quarter, the companies said. Applications using the card will roll out in the first half of next year.