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Bill Healy held the future in his pocket. The senior vice president of Hitachi Global Storage Technologies Inc. whipped out a tiny hard drive about the size of a Wheat Thin. The drive's label claimed a capacity of 1,000 gigabytes - more than 100 times greater than today's models that can hold 8,000 photos or 2,000 songs.
It wasn't real. But at the rate storage technology is now moving, it's only a matter of time before Healy's mock 1-terabyte disk drive becomes a reality.
With pioneering products like TiVo Inc.'s digital video recorders and Apple Computer Inc.'s iPod music players, the unsung storage components of hard disk drives and flash memory are taking on more visible roles. These are the keepers of precious personal cargo - from photos and household finances to music collections and favorite TV shows.
"You're letting us into your heart now, not just your home," said Bill Watkins, chief executive of Seagate Technology LLC, the world's largest maker of hard drives.
The opportunity hasn't been lost on storage purveyors.
Top suppliers - like Seagate, Western Digital Inc. and Hitachi for hard drives, and Samsung Electronics Co. and Toshiba Corp. for both flash memory and hard drives - are consistently pushing the technological envelope to feed device makers with ever beefier and more reliable technology.