LAS VEGAS -- It's awfully hard to get me excited about yet another USB Flash drive. I've seen them all, from silvery bullet shapes to cutesy cartoon animals and everything in between.
But at last week's Consumer Electronics Show (CES), America's high-tech trade fair held in the Las Vegas Convention Center, I saw the future of USB drives, and I think you'll like it.
It's called Wallet Flash, a "wallet-friendly" USB drive by Walletex Microelectronics. The device is flatter than a stick of gum and thin enough to fit anywhere you usually carry a credit card.
Thin Is In
Most USB Flash drives are already pretty small, of course. But they're chunky little devices. I'm at the point where, if I have to carry around one more brick-shaped gizmo, I'm going to scream.
The Wallet Flash (photo, above) is everything that most Flash drives are not:
Turn it sideways and you can barely see it. At only 1.9 mm thick (0.08"), this is one storage device that you can truly stick into your wallet and sit on without worry.
Tough polymer. Unlike most credit cards that flex, the Wallet Flash is made of a strong material that resists bending. That gives it durability, which is a good trait to have in a device that you expect people to store valuable data on.
Double-sided connector. It doesn't matter which way you stick the card into a USB port. Both sides of the card's connector are gold-plated and the card automatically detects which side is being used. I've always wondered why there was a "right way" and a "wrong way" to insert a USB drive. Now there isn't.
Water- and heat-resistant. The device can survive being left on a hot car dashboard or being completely submerged -- a point Walletex's CEO, Alon Atsmon, effectively demonstrated in front of me at CES by dropping one into a glass of ice water.
In-use light. The company somehow managed to squeeze into this tiny device a functioning green LED light, which (as in full-size drives) blinks when drive activity is occurring.
Magnetic stripe capabilities. The surface of the card accepts magnetic-stripe material, opening the door for all kinds of card-reading applications.
About the only aspect of the Wallet Flash I'd question is the fact that its USB connector protrudes a bit, making the device slightly wider than a standard credit card at that point.
I suppose this is a better design than trying to make the connector fold or retract, which would inevitably hurt the device's reliability. But I hope the drive's overall size can be reduced one day so the entire shape fits within today's credit-card format.
Carry Around Data and More
Another question about the Wallet Flash's credit-card size is whether the gadget could bear a magnetic stripe and be a credit card as well as a Flash drive. After all, that would give you one less object to fit into your wallet.
In a telephone interview, Zvi Gam, a VP of marketing for Walletex, said, "We haven't yet been in contact with credit-card companies to see if they want to use it." As impressively thin as the Wallet Flash is, its 1.9 mm thickness is noticeably more than that of standard credit cards, which are 0.8 to 1.0 mm thick.
That difference could prevent a Wallet Flash from passing through most credit-card readers, Gam said.
The Wallet Flash, however, was never designed to replace credit cards. It was designed to replace chunky USB Flash drives -- and, in my opinion, it excels at that. It's asking too much of the Wallet Flash to expect it to supplant credit cards, too.
High Tech with a Global Flavor
For a small company, Walletex has a decidedly international presence. Its executives are based in Israel, while its manufacturing is in China, and a marketing office is in New York.
The company is promising its Wallet Flash devices in capacities of 64MB, 128MB, 256MB, 512MB, 1GB, and 2GB. Only the 128MB device is currently being sold, primarily at this point from the company's own Web site. The direct price is $29 USD in a quantity of 1, which seems like a reasonable price for a technology that's so new.
Walletex's Gam says the 2GB model is coming, but "it will take a few weeks before we can deliver it." The company's site is advertising 2GB for $280 and is taking orders. Ordinary 2GB USB Flash drives sell for less than that, but they don't fit in your wallet.
Walletex won a 2006 Innovations Award at CES for creating the world's thinnest USB drive. This garnered its device some rather breathless mentions in a few blogs -- but I believe Wallet Flash should be much more widely known and used.
I don't want to stick a USB drive on my key ring, and I don't want to fish around in a bag for a USB drive every time I need to move some data. I want to just pull a card out of my wallet and then tuck it back in there for safekeeping when I'm done.
I want my Wallet Flash.
For more information, see the product and current prices at Walletex Microelectronics.