Adding Mini Hard Drives to Smart Phones Proving Difficult

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Although companies like Apple have been adding small hard drives to portable MP3 players for years, including one in a smart phone is a much more difficult process.

Size Matters

According to an article in NE Asia Online, the current generation of tiny hard drives is still too large to be included in a handset. Most of these are about 0.2 inches thick. As most smart phones are already 0.8 inches to 1.2 inches thick, designers are unwilling to add another 0.2 inches to their depth by adding a hard drive.

Although Toshiba’s recently-announced 0.85-inch diameter hard drive is 0.13 inches thick, mobile phone makers want one that is as thin as an SD card, 0.08 inches.

Many people are nervous about putting a spinning drive into their device because they are concerned it will make the device too easily damaged. Digital audio players must be able to survive a drop of one meter. Smart phones, on the other hand, are expected to survive if dropped for 1.5 meters. Shinichi Yamamoto, the head of new business development at Hitachi Global Storage Technologies, told NE Asia Online, “This is very difficult with the current technology.”

In general, MP3 players with hard drives aren’t known for their long battery lives. Current miniature drives can use over 100 mA, the same as a Wi-Fi CompactFlash card. The goal is to reduce the power requirements down to 75 mA at the most, the same amount memory cards use.

With all these difficulties, one might wonder why companies are still trying to shoehorn hard drives into smart phones. The answer is easy: cost. On average, the price per megabyte of Storage on a tiny hard drive is a tenth of what it is for solid state memory.

Handhelds Not in the Same Boat

Fortunately, people will accept a handheld that is larger than a smart phone, so miniature hard drives will begin appearing in handhelds much sooner than smart phones.

In fact, the first handheld to use a hard drive has already been announced, though it isn’t a Palm OS or Pocket PC model. The Archos AV500 will run Linux with Trolltech’s Qtopia environment. There will be one version of the AV500 with a built-in 20 GB hard drive, and a second with a 40 GB one. This device will be released later this year.

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