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IBM's 'racetrack' technology could increase iPhone storage tenfold

A new form of digital storage technology under development at IBM could deliver more than tenfold increases in both the storage capacity and battery life of handheld gadgets like Apple's iPod and iPhone, according to the company's claims.

A paper published in the current issue of Science and covered by the United Kingdom's Times Online describes the technology along the lines of NAND flash memory, only faster and with considerably longer expected lifespan.

Dubbed 'racetrack' memory, it's said to store information inside the walls that exist between magnetic domains, such as those arranged on the surface of a silicon wafer. Thus, information moves around the columns at extremely high speeds compared to traditional storage mediums — hence the racetrack name.

Scientists at IBM say the technology could pave the way for devices such as digital media players that can hold about a half million songs, cost far less to produce than today's models, and run on a single battery charge for weeks at a time.

"The promise of racetrack memory - for example, the ability to carry massive amounts of information in your pocket - could unleash creativity leading to devices and applications that nobody has imagined yet," said Stuart Parkin, who leads the team of research for IBM out at the company's research centre in San Jose, Calif.

He added that racetrack memory could lead to the development of "'three-dimensional micro-electronics', breaking with the tradition of scientists trying to fit an ever greater number on transistors on an ultra-thin piece of silicon shaped like a wafer."

Although still exploratory in its current form, IBM expects racetrack memory to begin cropping up in electronic devices within the next ten years.