Smart phones, tablet PCs to fuel Flash memory shortage in 2010

18 Feb 2010

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The enormous success of smart phones, like the iPhone, and expected sales of future devices, like the iPad, will lead to a critical undersupply of NAND-type flash memory in 2010, analysts have warned.

“An average of 35.2Gbytes of NAND will be used in each iPhone sold in 2010, iSuppli estimates,” said Michael Yang, senior analyst for memory and storage at iSuppli.

“Furthermore, iPhone shipments are set to rise to 33 million in 2010, up 31.5pc from 25.1 million in 2009. With the iPhone already the largest application for NAND, this huge growth is likely to lead to some periods of undersupply for the year.”

Partly owing to demand driven by the iPhone and competitive products, global NAND flash revenue will rise to US$18.1 billion in 2010, up 34pc from US$13.5 billion in 2009, according to a preliminary forecast from iSuppli.

This compares to a 14.8pc increase in 2009.

Partly because of increasing shipments of the iPhone and the arrival of competitive smart-phone products, the number of mobile handsets that contain embedded NAND flash is expected to rise sharply in 2010.

iSuppli forecasts that shipments of mobile handsets with embedded NAND flash will grow to 732 million units in 2010, up 13.8pc from 643 million in 2009. This compares to marginal growth of 1.6pc in 2008.

“The success of the iPhone in the smart-phone category has spurred the launch of a series of competitive mobile phones,” Yang said.

“These include the Motorola Droid, HTC Android Iris, Palm Pre and Google Nexus One. Although these phones may choose a different solution for storage memory, such as a microSD card, they will still aim to match the iPhone spec for spec in terms of memory capacity. This bodes well for NAND flash demand.”

Beyond the smart-phone segment, a number of other promising products are driving the NAND market in 2010, including e-books and tablet PCs.

However, while e-books such as the Amazon Kindle may follow a similar growth path as Apple’s iPods, they don’t use nearly as much NAND flash memory. E-books contain a mere 512Mbytes to 2Gbytes of embedded NAND included in each device.

And although density will no doubt grow in the coming years as wireless internet enables more features and functionality, NAND usage in e-books will remain low in 2010, iSuppli predicts.

Tablet PCs

With an anticipated storage density of 32Gbytes to 64Gbytes of storage, tablet PCs represent an attractive opportunity for NAND suppliers.

However, it remains unclear if volumes will reach the projections of hopeful manufacturers. The introduction of Apple’s iPad, though, might boost the market, and if the adoption rate for the iPad that approximates those of the iPod and iPhone could be a serious market-changing segment for NAND vendors.

By John Kennedy

Photo: Apple’s iPhone

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Editor John Kennedy is an award-winning technology journalist.

editorial@siliconrepublic.com