Don't call it a comeback: USB drives have been around for years.
It's just that instead of costing a king's ransom, they can now be purchased for less than the price of three lattes. These portable storage devices, also known as flash, jump and thumb drives, are being used for everything from selling cereal to promoting movies.
Last month, Matchbox Twenty released its latest album, "Exile on Mainstream," in traditional CD format, but the pop rockers also began offering it on a USB bracelet at Best Buy for $35 with extras such as photos and videos. The bracelets are made of silicone, similar to the "Live Strong" ones made famous by Lance Armstrong.
USB drives plug into the USB port of a desktop or laptop computer and can store text, audio, photos and video. Usually, they are used to transfer files from one computer to another, and, because USB drives don't have any moveable parts, they are more durable than a computer hard drive.
USB drives have a maximum storage capacity of 16 GB. Some are even waterproof.
For more information on USB drives, accessories, gadgets, etc., the following Web site may be helpful: www.everythingusb.com.
-- Monica Haynes
For those who like a little more flash with their drive, Philips Electronics has joined with Swarovski to sell upscale crystal-enhanced devices with silk cords that can be worn as pendants.
In what's quickly becoming a separate luxury USB category, jeweler Roberto Coin has designed a white-gold drive encrusted with diamonds, and Russian luxury manufacturer Gresso has created USB pendants made of African mahogany.
"This is probably one of the fastest-growing areas of electronics," said Jim Barry, spokesman for the Consumer Electronics Association. "It wasn't so long ago that a 512MB [of memory] would cost close to $100. Now you can get 1GB for under $20. More memory in smaller spaces, which gives you the capability to do lots of different things."
Such as record live concerts and offer them up to concertgoers before they leave the venue.
That's what the Austin-based company All Access Today does. In addition to working with Matchbox Twenty in producing its USB bracelet album, the company also produces the LiveWillie.com USB bracelets of Willie Nelson concerts. It also has worked with Ringo Starr, who is about to release his new CD, "Live in Liverpool," on a USB bracelet.
Chris Guggenheim, the company's chief executive officer, said the idea of putting music on a USB device is not new, but previous attempts failed because there was nothing appealing about them.
The young album-buying public already has proved it will wear a silicone bracelet, he said. "Not only does it have their music, but it's also a reusable product."
Music on the bracelets can be downloaded to a computer and the files deleted so the wristband can be used to store photos, homework, different music, etc.
"I personally have my resume and portfolio of work I've done and pictures of the last five years attached to my keychain," said Matthew Moskowitz, consumer products spokesman for Lexar, one of the leading companies for digital media and accessories that include USB drives.
One problem with putting important information on such a portable device is the possibility of its being lost or stolen and that information getting into someone else's hands.
USB drive manufacturers such as Lexar, SanDisk, Memorex and Corsair have addressed this issue by creating secure drives, which encrypt information and require a password to access it. Some secure drives called biometrics actually require fingerprint authentication to access the drive. These can sell for $100 to $200, depending on the drive's storage capacity.
In addition to bracelets and the traditional stick form, USB drives are being made into myriad shapes for promotional purposes.
Houses, teddy bears, cars, trucks and food are just some of the more novel shapes they've been made into. There are drives that also double as ink pens, laser pens and lighters.
"In our design series, we have the ability to shape a USB drive into anything you can imagine," said Karina Royzengurt, operations manager for iPromo.com, a company that sells promotional USB drives.
She said more firms are buying customized USB drives as promotional novelties instead of traditional pens and keychains. "A lot of companies have decided to go with something that, A) their customer will keep, and B), their customers will continuously use," she said.
Jim Barry said one of the cleverest USB drives he has seen is one shaped like a tiny Les Paul Gibson guitar with its own case.
"It illustrates how these things are proliferating and how people are coming up with creative ideas of how to use them."
Monica Haynes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1660. First Published November 6, 2007 5:00 AM