Sometimes Sony do good things: they co-invented the DVD, created the Walkman, and gave us Trinitron CRT tubes, all great stuff. However sometimes they just do something nuts, like Mini-Disc, or something really nuts, like Memory Stick.

I can only guess that they invented Memory Stick because they didnt want to use someone else's solid state memory format, like MMC or CompactFlash. Instead they gave the world the Memory Stick and decided to mandate its use on every damn thing they ever produced. I am bitter about this because I have a Sony Ericsson P800 phone, which thanks to the Sony connection, is a Memory Stick device. However, don't be trying to put a Memory Stick in it, because it uses Memory Stick Duo, which is half the length of the regular ones and a little bit thinner. Memory Stick and Memory Stick Duos are actually serial devices, and limited by their design to 128M max, which isn't enough for this millenium, or my phone. Like 640k wasn't enough when some genius at my current employer thought it was.

Finding Memory Stick Duos used to be quite tricky, but always ended up somewhere selling Sony gear. Until this year no-one else produce any Memory Stick products except Sony, which meant that when you did find them, they cost an arm and a leg. The subtely of 'Duo' was lost on vendors and web sites too, so you couldn't be sure even if it said Duo that it really was, or vice versa. However at some point the geniuses at Sony took a look at this confusion and said “haha, we have confused our users, lets make it worse. Much worse”.

I don't know the exact order, but Sony then decided to add the words MediaGate and Pro and Memory Select to the Memory Stick vernacular. MediaGate is some kind of copy protection thing, Memory Select is a lame way of extending the address space by adding a switch for another address bit, and Pro is a parallel version that has much greater capacity limits. Then they put all these words in a bucket, shook it up, and randomly picked them out at a meeting to decide what to call their next memory products. So now we have:

  • Memory Stick
  • Memory Stick (with memory select)
  • Memory Stick MagicGate
  • Memory Stick Duo
  • Memory Stick Duo MagicGate
  • Memory Stick PRO
  • Memory Stick PRO Duo

and some more I can't actually figure out. For the full list I direct you to the madness at the official site.

I had on my birthday list “128M Memory Stick Duo” and a friend foolishly decided to get me this. I opened my present and it was “256M Memory Stick Duo Pro” because he though he'd be a pal and get me more more than I asked for. Sadly it didnt work as it as was 256M and my phone has a limit of 128M. He apologised and took it back, and a few weeks later proudly gave me another present. This was a “128M Memory Stick Pro Duo“ but again that didn't work as it was still a Pro, and Pro's don't work in my phone. He went away and has been avoiding me ever since.

If you are foolish enough to own a product with some kind of Memory Stick socket, then the fun really starts. If you look in the instructions you probably won't find anything useful. If you buy some memory and look at that, it wont help either. I gave up on my friend and just bought myself some memory advertised as “Sony Memory Stick Duo” and when it arrived it clearly said this, which was good. It was also short, so that was good too as it was definitely Duo. But it also said MagicGate on it, and my phone manual makes no mention of this, so how could I tell if it was compatible? I looked at the back of the package and it said “can be used in Memory Stick and Memory Stick PRO devices“. ARRG! My phone is neither of these. I tried Googling but even Google has trouble with this terminology, all I could find were other people asking the same kind of question: which damn memory works in my damn device? The box has a support URL to use to determine compatibility, but that was worse than useless. In the end I tore open the packaging and plugged it into my phone, and all was good. I was lucky. The packaging is designed to self-destruct as it is opened, so good luck returning it if it doesn't work.

Even the professionals still get it wrong. Meritline are a good supplier for memory, but have never offered Duo memory. On searching their site I did notice that their 128M Memory Stick entry had a picture that was clearly a Duo. I emailed them in the vain hope the picture was right and the text wrong, but no, the picture was wrong so they pulled it. They still dont sell any Duo memory and frankly given the confusion over the entire product range I am surprised anyone does.

Sony, stop the madness. If you ever produce another solid state memory format, do not call it Memory Stick. Please.