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Iomega’s Clik! and the Realities of Portable Storage

With the tremendous growth in the type and number of handheld digital devices being introduced into the market, an urgent need has emerged for small form-factor removable storage devices and media.

Iomega’s Clik! And The Realities of Portable Storage

Hugh Bennett
Tape/Disc Business, March 2000

With the tremendous growth in the type and number of handheld digital devices being introduced into the market, an urgent need has emerged for small form-factor removable storage devices and media. Be they personal compressed music players, smart cell phones, pagers, personal digital assistants, palm computers, digital picture or video cameras, auto PCs, voice recorders, navigation systems or intelligent electronic toys, they all share the requirement to internally store information and exchange data with the outside world. Iomega is among the first to recognize this void in the portable storage game and is seeking to repeat the success that it enjoyed with its Zip products for desktop computers by mounting a renewed market splurge to push its Clik! technology for portable systems.

The small size and transportable nature of portable devices place vastly different demands upon storage systems than do desktop computer or set-top systems. These include miniature size, extremely low power consumption, significant physical durability, little heat generation, quiet operation and very low cost. Fulfilling these requirements within the confines of current technology is a challenge which, as yet, has remained elusive.

The Competitors
Currently the most popular storage option available for portable devices is flash memory. Using non-volatile solid-state technology, the contenders consist of six mutually incompatible formats, namely CompactFlash (SanDisk), SmartMedia (Toshiba), MultiMediaCard (SanDisk, Infineon/ Siemens), Memory Stick (Sony), Secure Digital (Matsushita, SanDisk, Toshiba) and Secure MMC (Sanyo, Hitachi, Fujitsu, Infineon/Siemens).

The other major forms of removable miniature storage consist of various types of magnetic technologies. Employing rigid or flexible rotating magnetic disks, the options are varied and include micro hard disk drives (IBM), 3.5″ floppy diskettes (Sony) as well as high density LS-120 SuperDisks (Matsushita).

Iomega Clik!
Sensing that they have hit upon the right solution, Iomega is promoting its Clik! technology to the varied portable marketplace. Based upon magnetic storage techniques, Clik! is essentially a scaled down version of Iomega’s flagship Bernoulli/Zip that has served them for so long and so well.

Housed in rigid 2″ x 2″ cartridges weighing roughly one-third of an ounce, Clik! disks store 38 MB (40 million bytes) of information, support a data transfer rate of 620 KB/sec and sell for between $10 and $15 each.

Drives to read and write Clik! disks come in two aftermarket configurations, namely a $299 PC card drive which fits into the PCMCIA slot of a notebook computer, as well as a $250 external version for digital cameras which comes with a flash memory card reader that allows the contents of CompactFlash and SmartMedia cards to be transferred to Clik! disks. Optional adapters are available to connect the drive to desktop or laptop PCs.

Despite Iomega’s dependence on the selling of aftermarket products, Clik!’s ultimate success or failure will continue to lie in directly designing and integrating the technology into portable devices. Currently the only shipping product employing Clik! is Agfa’s ePhoto CL30 digital camera, a $550 megapixel unit that stores between 60 and 360 images per disk depending upon the resolution. Hope for Iomega springs eternal resulting in several other companies recently coming on board to integrate Clik! into their products sometime this year. These include Korean manufacturer Varo Vision (which plans to offer a personal MP3 player with voice record and organizer functions) as well as Addonics Technology and Sensory Science (formerly Go-Video) who have also stated their intentions to develop Clik! versions of their MP3 players. In addition, Pharos Science has announced a Windows CE-based portable navigation computer with integrated GPS (Global Positioning System) using Clik! disks to store map information.

Clik! Is Found Wanting
Despite Iomega’s increased marketing efforts, Clik! seems to be finding only limited acceptance due to several deficits, not the least of which is its disappointing 38 MB size. Over the next few years, the demand for larger capacity portable storage will inevitably grow, driven by consumer insistence on the capture and retrieval of higher quality images and standard equipment in MP3 players and two megapixel digital cameras which will become commonplace. With demand for ever-increasing resolution in these devices expected to continue, Clik!’s 38 MB of storage is questionable.

While Clik! is generally seen to be at its limit of storage capacity, other alternatives such as flash memory are expected to swell to more than 192 MB this year, while micro hard disk drives already capture as much as 340 MB.

And on the horizon for digital cameras is Sanyo, Olympus and Hitachi Maxell’s revolutionary iD format (Intelligent Image-Disk). Based on the Advanced Storage-Magneto-Optical (AS-MO) standard, iD promises an initial capacity of 730 MB per removable 50 mm disc, and with a strong likelihood for a future increase to 1.4 GB using Magnetic Amplifying Magneto-Optical System (MAMOS) technology.

One market reality that Clik! sought to address, but didn’t achieve to a significant degree, was in the area of blank media cost. The old formula of cost per megabyte may work for fixed hard disk drives, but in the world of removable storage, blank disk consumption is driven by the overall cost of the media. At nearly $100 per piece, flash memory cards are too expensive for a user to own more than a few, but psychologically speaking, so are Clik! disks that sell at $10-$15 per piece. If disk pricing was in the range of a dollar or two, Clik! would indeed become attractive.

Perhaps the harshest reality facing Clik! is that, so far, it hasn’t made any money and Iomega may not be in a strong enough financial position to nurture OEM deals at a time when sales of its core Zip and Jaz drives continue to disappoint. Some sobering numbers to consider are that only 33,000 Clik! drives and 92,000 disks were shipped in the third quarter of 1999 (up from only 4000 drives and 22,000 disks in the second quarter). Faced with the worldwide market for digital cameras alone which is expected to hit 4.5 million units this year Clik! sales hardly represent even a blip on the radar screen. With prospects like that, the future success for Clik! is anything but bright.

Hugh Bennett, editor-in-chief of Hugh’s News, is president of Forget Me Not Information Systems, a reseller, systems integrator and industry consultant based in London, Ontario, Canada. Hugh is author of The Authoritative Blu-ray Disc (BD) FAQ and The Authoritative HD DVD FAQ, available on Hugh’s News, as well as Understanding Recordable & Rewritable DVD and Understanding CD-R & CD-RW, published by the Optical Storage Technology Association (OSTA).

Copyright © 1999 Knowledge Industry Publications / Hugh Bennett