Faster storage for tablets, smartphones on tap

SD Association is releasing the SD 4.0 specification, and media based on the spec could be available next year

Devices like e-readers, tablets, and smartphones could get faster storage as early as next year with the new SD 4.0 media card specification, the SD Association said.

The SD 4.0 specification will be released to manufacturers this quarter, a spokeswoman for the trade association said on Wednesday. The new specification establishes the storage capacity and bus transfer speeds for Secure Digital media, which can be slotted into devices to store images, video or other data.

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SD cards are commonly used as external storage in smartphones, tablets, digital cameras, camcorders, navigation systems, gaming consoles, and laptops. Historically, it takes 12 to 18 months before new products become available to consumers once the specification is released to manufacturers, the spokeswoman said.

"It's up to the member to decide when they create products using it," the spokeswoman said in an e-mail.

The SD 4.0 specification will move data faster between the card and the device at 312MB per second, which is three times faster than the previous generation. The SD Association is currently pushing SDXC, which can transfer data at a theoretical maximum speed of 104MB per second.

However SDXC media is expensive, and most consumers devices -- including the latest tablets -- come with slots based on the earlier SDHC specification.

The SD 4.0 cards, when released, will be available in capacities ranging from 32GB to 2TB, which will remain unchanged from the SDXC specification. The highest capacity SDXC card offered is 128GB media from Lexar, which transfers data at 20MB per second.

Though SDXC has not yet reached its full data transfer capacity, the SD Association is already looking to double the transfer speeds in the SD 4.00 specification in the future, said Norm Frentz, chairman of the SD Association, in a statement.

The new memory card standard could bring features such as high-definition video to mobile devices. High-definition video typically requires high storage capacity and large bandwidth for devices to play back content.

Users will also be able to shoot high-definition video and write it to SD 4.0 media in real time, the association said.

The SD Association also announced an e-book application specification to store e-books on SD media to share across multiple mobile devices. The association hopes that SD cards will be one way to share or move e-books. However, efforts to use SD for media distribution in the past have failed. Two years ago Toshiba enlisted SD cards as a way to distribute movies through self-service kiosks in stores, but the effort never took off.

The SD Association offerings typically compete with offerings based on CompactFlash specifications. The CompactFlash Association recently introduced a specification, CF 6.0, that is expected to transfer data at speeds of up to 120MB per second.

The SD Association has about 1,000 members, including Sony, Samsung and Toshiba.

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