Apple's iPod mini isn't just a huge hit among music lovers – digital photographers are also turning to the product – to cannibalize it for the 4GB Hitachi Microdrive it contains.

The 4GB microdrive inside the iPod mini is encased within a CompactFlash body, so many digital camera users have turned to the product to use inside their cameras. Why? Because such a card costs $499 at US retail, while the iPod mini costs just $249.

But the investment doesn't always pay off. iPod mini cannibals can't make the cards work once they have been removed – as Christopher Breen warned last week.

Hitachi's global storage technologies media relations head Kim Nguyen definitively tried to explain Hitachi's price policy to Macworld UK: "The Microdrive may not work once it has been extracted from a third-party consumer device. These embedded Microdrive products are designed to different specifications than stand-alone Microdrives and are not optimized for removability." She also warned that extracting the drive may damage it.

Cash-strapped photographic creatives are turning to iPod-destruction because they can't see why Apple can profitably produce a product that integrates a Microdrive at a price that's half that of such a drive at retail.


Nguyen stressed that her company's $499 pricing for the hard drive at retail as a standalone item is "a suggested selling price only". She also said: "Standalone Microdrive products provide additional value over embedded products used in consumer electronic devices in their ability to be removed and used in a variety of different devices. Embedded Microdrive media is only designed to work in the device for which it was originally intended."

iPoding reports an Apple insider who mentioned that Hitachi has disabled CompactFlash support in the Microdrives supplied to Apple for use within iPod mini. This means that once the drives are removed from Apple's music player, they stop working.

Nguyen told Macworld that Microdrives were specifically developed for consumer electronics devices such as digital cameras, adding: "Today, a number of customers in several consumer electronics market segments are working with us to help us define market requirements for new generations of Microdrives."

The drives that ship embedded within devices are custom-built for Hitachi's OEMs, and the features available inside the drives may not be as complete as those available at retail.

"Some of the drives we ship today are used by consumers in products like digital cameras as removable storage: in other cases, the drives are designed inside devices such as MP3 players where the drive is not meant to be removed by end users."

Despite customer curmudgeon at retail, Hitachi expects the market for its drives to increase, particularly as the product sees adoption in new consumer-electronics (CE) markets.

"A key consideration in the MP3 market and other CE market segments is the ever-growing need for high capacity in small hard-drives. With our position in drives that are 2.5 inches and smaller, Hitachi is very well positioned to meet the needs in the market for MP3 players," she said.