CES 2009 Wrap


The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) 2009 has now come and gone. It was significant for both what was announced and what was not.

Most importantly SanDisk finally announced its MLC SSDs. A lot is riding on these. Specs look good, but then talk can be cheap. Ultimately design wins will tell the tale as to whether these have the right stuff.

SanDisk also announced slotRadio and a companion line of slotRadio cards.

With these SanDisk is targeting the technically-challenged, casual music fan.

Time will tell whether these will fare any better than TakeTV, Fanfare, or the Sansa Connect. I’m not holding my breath. Curiously somewhere in these flounderings might be the kernel of a good idea- likely related to video.

StartKey was the non-starter. Many, myself included, were expecting news of the Microsoft/ SanDisk U3+ venture.

Whether no news is good news is the question. I’m inclined to think it is, but there are other less appetizing explanations.



It would have been nice to get more technical detail on these most important product lines, but then CES was, after all, a consumer electronics show. The kind of forum where SSDs are dropped for laughs.

We should hear a whole lot more on the technical side in the next six months. I would think SSDs will be a focus for SanDisk’s Analyst Day, usually held in late February.

Independent third party testing will give us some hints about how SanDisk’s MLC SSDs stack up against the competition, but ultimately design wins will tell the tale.

SanDisk also announced its next-generation pSSD drives for the netbook market. This is an emerging market that should be fun to watch.

As I see it, 2010 will be the breakthrough year for SSDs. 32nm MLC NAND should bring costs down to the tipping point. For those like SNDK with systems expertise coupled with in-house NAND supply, it should be a wild ride- world economy willing. A big if right now.



SanDisk also announced its new slotRadio and a companion line of slotRadio cards. To say reviewers weren’t generally impressed is an understatement.

Here are couple of links:

How Sandisk’s slotRadio Turned a Good Idea Into a Horrible Product

“There’s no back button. If you hear a song you like, the only way to hear it again is to hit the skip button 999 times. Seriously, who’s idea was it to not include a back button? Can you think of a more disastrous interface choice on any portable music player ever?”

SanDisk slotRadio player comes with jam-packed card: like NOW, but infinitely worse

“Oh, heaven help us all. Just when we thought SanDisk had taken a hint and stopped promoting its slotMusic initiative entirely, in flies this. Quite honestly, we weren’t aware that it could get any worse, but this friends, is worse.”

I was planning on adding another analysis of SanDisk vs Apple, but in the context of SlotRadio I’m going to let it slide. Why bother?

Two years ago at CES 2007, SanDisk announced what would have been its first widescreen portable media player. Expectations were high. SanDisk appeared poised to rollout a personal digital video player before Apple and with more storage and better features.

In June of that year, the product was sent off for major redesign – never to be heard of since – the same month that the iPhone was launched.

The problem for SanDisk was that Apple followed up its iPhone with a personal digital video player, the iPod touch, based on iPhone technology.  SanDisk’s competition had morphed from a souped-up iPod into a stripped down iPhone.  Another game entirely.

To date SanDisk has no answer. I have been hoping that this high end Sansa View would be reborn enabled with Wi-Fi, a touch screen and Linux OS. Google’s Android seems like a natural.  So far nothing.

Instead we get slotRadio-  A 1000 locked songs and no back button. Sheesh. What is SanDisk thinking?

SanDisk got to #2 in flash-based MP3 players with a simple formula- Copy Apple and Sell For Less. Might be time for SanDisk to to get back to what worked.



Way back in May 2007 MicroSoft and SanDisk announced their partnership to develop the “next-generation software and hardware solution to place application programs and personal customization on USB flash drives and flash memory cards, expanding on and replacing SanDisk’s existing U3™ Smart Technology.”

At the time, products were expected to roll out commercially in the second half of 2008.

In March 2008, the schedule was moved back to the end of 2008 (at least for beta) “according to sources who asked not to be named.” The product was also named as StartKey, presumably by the same source.

CES 2009 seemed like a natural forum for the unveiling. After all CES is the world’s largest consumer technology tradeshow. The show came and went with nary a peep about StartKey.

As I see it, there are three possibilities as to why we didn’t get StartKey at CES:

1. StartKey is dead.
2. StartKey is behind schedule- Technical problems and so forth
3. StartKey, as originally envisioned for release, has morphed into something else.

I’m partial to #3 and suspect it will tied into plans for Windows 7.

BTW, related to this, I also now think that Microsoft is the likely mystery SSSS LLC partner (more likely than Toshiba).

This section is a follow-on to More X-Files.

More accurately it is a follow-on to a comment at the bottom of that post. DanR pointed out that MicroSoft should also be considered seriously as a candidate for SanDisk’s mystery SSSS LLC partner. I agree.

Several pieces fall into place if Microsoft is indeed the mystery SanDisk SSSS LLC partner.

SSSS LLC is a licensing entity. U3 was a licensing entity and it has been announced that a follow-on licensing entity was created for the Microsoft/SanDisk partnership.

We know that the SSSS LLC was formed as a partnership with another major owner of system level flash IP, because Eli said so in SanDisk’s 12.04.07  Nasdaq 20th Investor Program presentation.

As DanR pointed out Microsoft has plenty of flash IP – so presumably that fits too.

The potentially interesting twist is why SSSS LLC would need the Renesas/(Hitachi) flash IP assigned in recent patents to SSSS LLC – if the licensing entity will forever simply be a U3 follow-on.

The virtualization concept gets pretty interesting, pretty quickly, if it evolves in the direction of enabled SSDs, cards and virtual machines.

Way back in May 2007, I started this blog with a post on the potential promise of this proposition. Not much has changed:

“U3+ enabled SSDs & cards/ Virtual Machines:  Although this is futuristic stuff, many think the potential’s worth watching.  Agree.  In any case, there is a continuum between here and there, offering many opportunities.

Some smart folks envision U3 style virtualization going much further than what we have seen so far. Eventually so far that the PC form form factor itself could be threatened. Suspect this agreement with SNDK is at least in part MSFT’s way of trying to manage, or co-op, the possibility of this eventuality.

SNDK has hinted strongly that SSDs will evolve from an OEM-centric HDD-like product to a removable consumer card… If this is the way things go, these SSD cards look ideal for the first PC virtualization cards when specially enabled for U3+.

The U3 concept has the potential to be pushed far beyond a limited PC environment with email, settings and so forth.  Managed properly, higher capacity cards have the potential to store a complete functional PC disk image which in turn could function as a virtual machine.”

While such potential futuristic stuff is fun to contemplate and might pay-off in the long run, I’m expecting far more mundane products initially- along the lines of U3 as we knew it- with an emerging markets’ twist.

As to when we might finally find out about StartKey, or whatever name it will be released with, I’m inclined to think later this year with Windows 7. Windows 7 seems particularly flash friendly as it includes SSD enabling technologies.


One Response to CES 2009 Wrap

  1. jason404 says:

    So, what happened? There does not seem to be anything to replace U3 still, and I find anything about StartKey.

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