Sony and SanDisk today announced a smaller Memory Stick card format; Memory Stick Micro or M2, designed to be used with mobile phones, being a card that can be inserted into a mobile phone case slot, and used to store pictures, music and videos.

M2 measures 15 millimeters (mm) by 12.5mm by 1.2mm, significantly smaller than the Memory Stick Duo card format, measuring 31mm by 20mm by 1.6mm. M2 cards can be inserted and removed up to 12,000 times.

Sony and SanDisk expect mobile phone users to want to be able to play richer content on their mobile phones, particularly music and videos. Because M2 is compatible with Memory Stick Pro it can be loaded into an adapter card and inserted into a Memory Stick Pro slot on a notebook computer - such as Sony's Vaio, a video recorder, PlayStation, TV, even kiosks in Japan, and have content loaded onto it.

This content can then be played on a mobile phone. Sony and SanDisk will be looking to license the technology to mobile device suppliers from next week onwards.

Why should they be interested, apart from Sony Ericsson that is? Memory Stick is the second most popular memory card format, with a quarter of the world memory card production volume, second to the SD format with 41 percent, according to industry researcher TSR. The MMC format is third with 12 percent. In Sony's fiscal 2004, over 50 million Memory Stick cards were shipped, with cumulative shipments of 100 million since the format arrived in 1998.

Memory Stick isn't a world-wide standard like VHS, but nor is it a failed format like Betamax.

Sony has digital rights management (DRM) technology, called Magic Gate, on all Memory Stick formats, which allows content providers to specify none, limited or totally free copying rights. The card isn't locked to the particular device it happens to be in.

M2 runs on either 1.8 volts or 3.3 volts, making it suitable for mobile phones from a power usage point of view. It also has an eject control design intended to prevent cards flying out of phones and getting lost. The insertion slot is intended to be on the outside of the phone, making M2 insertion and removal much easier than a SIM card or battery.

M2 can hold 1GB and has a roadmap out to 32GB. A 1GB card could have 2 hours 20 minutes of QVGA 768Kbit/s video stored on it. Memory Stick Pro holds 4GB, Duo 2GB. In general capacities on such flash memory formats are doubling every twelve months or less. We should be able to expect a 2GB M2 card in a few months after the 1GB card becomes available in the first half of 2006. A 4GB M2 card might arrive in 2008.

Just days ago SanDisk announced a rival micro SD format memory card, the Gruvi. It also has a DRM facility, a different one. Nice for SanDisk; it can punt two micro memory card formats to the phone and content companies.