USB flash drives (also known as thumb drives, jump drives, or memory sticks) have been around for years now, since before we had access to cloud storage and file sharing options on every computerized device. That change in technology has led so-called experts to predict the death of the USB drive for years, and yet the humble thumb drive remains an extremely popular item with expected worldwide sales to exceed half a billion units by 2020.
This brings up some interesting questions:
- When everyone can access gigabytes of storage space in the cloud for free and more than that for a small fee, why do we still buy and use USB drives?
- Are there reasons to choose a USB drive over storage in the cloud?
To answer these questions and reacquaint you with this versatile and valuable tool, let’s take a look at seven creative uses for custom USB flash drives:
Even with all the options in mobile devices, Wi-fi or mobile data, and ubiquitous cloud-based apps and storage, sometimes when you need to get things done, you can’t beat having exactly what you want, when you want it, in the palm of your hand.
- Portable Apps on your USB drive - Many popular games, apps, and tools you know and love have versions that are designed to run directly from a flash drive. When you need to be away from your usual computer, but still want to be able to use your favorite browser, you can simply plug the drive into whatever computer you can get your hands on and work as if you’re sitting in your home office.
- Improve system performance - If you’re running a Windows OS, any time you plug a USB thumb drive into the computer, a menu pops up including an option that reads, “Speed Up My System.” If you choose to do so, Windows can take advantage of however much storage is available on your memory stick to increase the computer’s speed and capabilities, almost like temporarily installing additional RAM.
While there are certainly benefits to most of the universe being in the cloud, one of the issues we’re continually grappling with is cybersecurity. As the world continues to grow ever-more connected and all of our most precious information goes online, hackers and thieves will continue to pose a threat. In this environment, it’s nice to know that you can still carry protection in your pocket - through your USB flash drive.
- Lock and unlock your computer - With the help of a simple app called Predator (or one of its many clones) your laptop can be instantly locked and become essentially useless to anyone who does not have your jump drive inserted. So, if you’re working at a cafe’ or public library and need to step away from your computer, you can rest assured no one can access your computer. Just pull your USB drive out and take it with you.
- Protect your computer from theft - Taking the same concept a step further, an app and cable combination called LAlarm turns your flash drive into an anti-theft device for your laptop. Simply attach the cable to the USB drive and the table or desk you’re using. If someone tries to steal your computer, a piercing alarm will sound as soon as the jump drive is pulled from its port.
- Portable virus and malware protection - Despite your best efforts, sometimes sneaky viruses and malware manages to make it past all your defenses and infects your computer. While a bad virus can spell disaster for a computer, if you’ve previously installed virus and malware protection on your USB flash drive, you may still be able to save the day. AVG offers a free option specifically for this purpose.
Beyond being safe and productive, most of the time we spend on our computers today is for entertainment and fun. Between Netflix, gaming of all kinds, and millions of websites dedicated to having a good time, it’s no surprise that a USB drive can offer up some fun diversions too.
- Deaddrops.com - If you’re not familiar with Dead Drops, you’re in for an interesting discovery. Essentially, founder Aram Bartholl envisioned a free and anonymous take on the sharing culture that combines public art installation with P2P file sharing. The result is a worldwide phenomenon involving thousands of USB flash drives cemented into walls and pillars in cities everywhere. Everyone is welcome to add to - and download from - any Dead Drop jump drive at any time, so every time you plug in, it’s a new adventure. (Of course, you’ll want to skip back up to #5 and make sure your computer is protected before visiting a Dead Drop!)
- The modern mixtape - Back in the day, if you didn’t have the cash on hand for a beautiful gift, or if you simply forgot it was your best friend’s birthday, you could still put together a great gift just by compiling a personalized selection of favorite songs you know they’d love on a cheap cassette or CD and handing it to them with a wink. Most of us have at least one mixtape memory we can fall back on. Today, you can do the same thing using a custom USB flash drive, only you’re not limited to music. Your “mixtape” can include any sort of digital content, from music to images, video, text, or a combination.
After reviewing these seven creative uses for USB drives, no doubt you’re thinking about some great ideas of your own. Everyone could put one of these versatile tools to use.
In fact, because they’re so incredibly useful to so many people, they’ve become a very popular item for businesses to customize and give away as promotional gifts at special events or as prizes in contests. As the physical size of digital storage has continued to shrink, the utility of even a tiny thumb drive has multiplied even as its price has dropped. Now, it’s possible to get 8, 16, even 32 gigabyte USB drives in nearly any shape for a very reasonable price.
Considering how many different fun and creative shapes, sizes and materials are available, you may want to consider designing a custom USB flash drive for your own company’s marketing efforts. Or, you may just want to pick a few up for yourself and some friends.
After all, no amount of cloud storage can beat having the power of 16+ gigabytes in the palm of your hand.