SanDisk on Tuesday revealed a storage technology called TrustedFlash that integrates digital rights management (DRM) into a flash memory card.

The news emerged at the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association (CTIA) Wireless IT and Entertainment 2005 show in San Francisco.

The move allows music, games, movies and other content makers to sell their products for mobile phones, either as cards sold at retail stores or as downloadable content that can be transferred to a TrustedFlash card, said Eli Harari, president and CEO of SanDisk. Currently, most content for mobile devices is locked to a particular device, partly because of concerns about piracy.

DRM sugar gives Stones shelter

TrustedFlash will be rolled out in the fourth quarter of this year, Harari said. It is available now to original equipment manufacturers in miniSD, microSD and SD card formats, according to SanDisk.

EMI and Virgin Records America announced that a version of the Rolling Stones' album "A Bigger Bang" on a TrustedFlash microSD or miniSD card is set to go on sale in select retail stores in November for $39.99. It will include band images and links to other Rolling Stones albums that the consumer could buy, Harari said.

SanDisk also showed off a 4GB embedded flash memory component with the TrustedFlash technology, to be integrated into mobile phones, music players, personal media players and GPS (Global Positioning System) devices. It takes up less than 4 per cent of the space that a microdrive would take up, Harari said.

Consumers will be able to move content on TrustedFlash cards from one mobile device to another because the DRM is built in to the card, Harari said. Depending on the DRM settings defined by the content provider, consumers also will be able to copy the content to a PC hard drive or other storage as backup a certain number of times, the company said.

Invite open to others

Providers of existing DRM technologies, such as Apple, Microsoft and the Open Mobile Alliance (OMA), have been invited to integrate their formats into the TrustedFlash format, Harari said.

SanDisk announced that Yahoo will bundle its Yahoo Music Engine with TrustedFlash cards, allowing users to directly subscribe to the Yahoo Music Unlimited service, listen to music on their phones and play music from the cards on Windows XP and Windows 2000 PCs. In addition, Samsung Electronics will equip several handsets with SD card slots to use TrustedFlash, the companies announced.

TrustedFlash cards can encrypt and decrypt multimedia files without sacrificing playback speed, according to SanDisk. Along with DRM, the cards include components for managing subscriptions, conditional access features such as renting content for a limited time, and commerce functions such as payment. The cards can be partitioned into storage for prepackaged content, downloaded content bought from a service provider, and the user's own content from a PC, the company said.

TrustedFlash, the flexible friend

The TrustedFlash technology currently belongs to SanDisk, Harari said. It could be applied to any form factor, not just flash memory cards, he added.

PacketVideo Corp., a multimedia software company in San Diego, is developing playback software to include on TrustedFlash cards, according to Bridget Cavanaugh, a PacketVideo representative at the press conference. Currently, multimedia content on TrustedFlash cards can only be played on phones with the proper playback capabilities, but PacketVideo is working on software that could be integrated into the cards and bring those capabilities to any phone, she said.

TrustedFlash has the potential to dramatically change the market for mobile multimedia content, but a number of pieces would have to fall into place first, said Avi Greengart, a mobile device analyst at Current Analysis. More handset makers will have to embrace the technology before it becomes attractive for content providers to sell music and video on the cards, and preloaded cards will have to become a high-volume business to bring down the high starting price: "At $40, it's going to be a really tough sell," Greengart said.

Meanwhile, mobile operators may resist adopting phones with TrustedFlash slots because they don't want subscribers to be able to buy music or other content from retail stores instead of their own multimedia services, he said.

"For this to succeed, it requires the entire mobile device and content ecosystem to change," Greengart said.