Two flash disk products have been announced with seemingly odd enhancements: backup in the cloud and USB connect. What's going on?

At CES SanDisk has announced a 4GB Cruiser Titanium thumb drive with software that automatically backs up files written to it to an online backup facility 'in the cloud', using Amazon's web-based service. The online backup service is free for six months and then $29.99/year afterwards. If the host computer isn't online when files are written to the flash drive then the online backup takes place the next time the Internet connection is available.

This seems odd. I could understand it more if the thumb drive was liable to break, like an external hard drive might, but it isn't. The cloud backup is there in case you forget or mislay the thumb drive. Still, and here is sign number one, the idea of backup in the cloud, of storage in the cloud, is being used again

Also on the flash front Micron subsidiary Lexar has announced 32GB and 64GB flash drives with SATA 3.0Gbit/s interfaces. That's fine, expected, par for the flash course, but, again oddly, it has announced externally-attached versions of these with a USB 2.0 link, thus attaching a virtually instant write and instant access storage device via a slow link. Why?

They are like very large thumb drives but portable hard drives are available that do the job more cheaply. Is the Lexar idea here that portable flash drives are safer than portable hard drives? I think that maybe this product would be better off with a faster USB interface, USB 3.0. We might see products using this by early 2009.

Sign number two is that we're seeing another example of flash drives encroaching on existing hard disk markets.

These are both CES, meaning consumer, announcements but it might not take a weather man to see which way the wind is blowing .....