Now that phones with hard disks have arrived, standards inevitably follow. Hitachi (HGST) and Intel are pushing the development of an interface to make it easier to build compact hard-disk drives into future phones, PDAs and digital music players.

The proposed CE-ATA (Consumer Electronics-Advanced Technology Attachment) interface will appear in Hitachi products by August 2005, said John Osterhout, director of business development at Hitachi Global Storage Technologies.

The specifications have yet to be decided, but CE-ATA will have fewer pins, consume less electricity, and be cheaper than other interfaces such as ZIF (zero insertion force) connectors, that are commonly used for small consumer-electronic devices such as portable digital music players.

Specifications for the standard will be complete by June 2005, and the standard has backing from component makers Marvell, Seagate, and Toshiba, with more partners to follow, said Osterhout. Several large mobile phone makers have already expressed interested in the new standard, he said, but would not identify the manufacturers.

"If you look at the other interfaces around, none of them are completely adequate for handheld devices. Hitachi has been selling microdrives for five years, and we know OEMs are saying that nothing is a perfect fit," he said.

Earlier this week, Samsung, which is challenging Motorola to become the number two maker of mobile phones, said it plans to start selling the world's first mobile phone with a hard-disk drive. The SPH-V5400 is a clamshell phone with a 1.5GB disk drive and a megapixel digital still camera. It plays music files stored in MP3 format, and has a built-in FM transmitter, all of which require the device to store about 15 times more data than conventional handsets, Samsung said.

The possibility of putting hard-disk drives in phones began to be talked about a year ago as makers added more multimedia functions, needing more installed memory. Meanwhile, disk drive makers are putting more capacity into smaller drives (see our feature). HGST, Cornice and GS Magicstor make one-inch drives. Seagate said this June that it will begin selling a one-inch drive during the third quarter of this year, and the lucrative area is seeing legal action. Seagate makes two versions: 2.5GB and 5GB. This August, Toshiba announced that it had created a 1.8-inch drive with a capacity of 60GB.

Toshiba will also be sampling a 0.85-inch drive that has a capacity of up to 4GB. Toshiba has yet to finalise the capacity, but the drive will be available before the end of this year, according to Makoto Yasuda, a company spokesman. Toshiba said in January that it expected to put the drive into mobile phones and portable digital music players. Apple Computer's iPod and iPod mini use 1.8-inch and 1.0-inch drives respectively.

According to market research firm IDC, worldwide portable digital music player shipments will reach more than 25 million units in 2008. The company forecasts that more than 25 million digital video recorders and 40 million video game units will be shipped the same year.

Although the companies backing CE-ATA are few in number, they don't lack muscle, Osterhout said. "Hitachi and Toshiba are major HDD makers, Marvell is developing ASICs and Seagate is just coming to the business. Intel has been pushing standardisation activities for 20 years," he said.