As technology matures, new methods for storing data evolve at breakneck speed, from the early dawn of the computing era and its use of cumbersome punch cards to store programs to the modern era of compact hard disks and solid-state drives. In the realm of mobile computing, no single format has had the impact and ubiquity of the Secure Digital Card format, the SD Card. Yet it’s come a long way since its introduction over 12 years ago, seeing various revisions and upgrades to keep pace with other competing formats.
The Birth of a Format
In 1999, several tech companies teamed up to create a new memory format to stand up to Sony’s proprietary Memory Stick standards. These companies, among them Toshiba, Nintendo, and SanDisk, founded the SD Association, or SDA, to develop, publish, and maintain the official standards for SD Card technology. To this day, the SDA creates and distributes standards for new developments in SD card tech. As we’ll see in a moment, a strong, centralized format authority is key to the successful propagation of a new technology.
At its introduction, SD card manufacturers targeted the digital and video camera market, eventually overtaking Toshiba’s once-dominant SmartMedia format to become the number one form of digital storage. Early production versions only supported up to 64 megabytes of storage, though this capacity would quickly begin to grow by leaps and bounds, similar to the way transcend SD cards have done.
Today, the largest capacity cards can hold up to two terabytes when utilizing the more advanced SDXC standards. The cards’ relatively open standards, high capacities, and constantly growing capacities and sizes helped push the format to widespread use in not only the video camera market, but also in laptops, phones, desktop computers, and countless other electronic devices.
Evolution and Growth
As SD cards continued to grow larger in capacity, the SDA pushed for the cards to get even smaller in physical appearance. While the vanilla SD card appears much as it did at its debut over a decade ago, several smaller variants for mobile phone and computing device versions have popped up over the years.
In 2003, the first of these was introduced under the miniSD label by SanDisk Corporation. Primarily used in the rapidly growing cellular phone market, the miniSD card offered the smallest SD format possible until it was succeeded by microSD cards just two years later. Both micro- and miniSD card formats are backward compatible with standard SD card readers using a special adapter, often included with the card at retail.
Paramount to the success of any proprietary or licensed format is the backward compatibility of the product. Though the cards have been in use over a decade in dozens of different devices, the SDA has still been able to maintain a strong sense of continuity for the Secure Digital brand.
From pushing the distribution of adapters for the mini and micro variants to enforcing a uniform 3.3-volt electrical interface, there is remarkably little confusion among consumers as to whether their new SD cards will work with older readers and devices. The same cannot be said of every other manufacturers’ rapidly changing proprietary standards.
As we look towards the next big advances in mobile data storage, SD cards face an uncertain future. Will cloud computing render compact flash storage obsolete, or will the standard react to the ever-changing marketplace and be with us for another decade and beyond? Only time will tell.