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Online storage cuts NAND flash capacity in mobile devices

Posted: 07 Mar 2013 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:NAND flash? cloud storage? smartphone? tablets?

According to the latest report from IHS, the average amount of NAND flash memory in each smartphone and tablet shipped has dipped this year. This is attributed to the increasing availability of cloud storage and streaming services, added the market research firm.

Memory capacity per cell phone so far has declined to 12.8GB on average in H1, compared to 13.2GB the same time in 2012. Such a decline comes in stark contrast to the nearly threefold increase that took place between 1H11 and 2012, when flash memory in phones surged from 4.6-13.2GB.

Tablet teardowns tell a similar story of dwindling memory density. From 1H11 to the same time one year later, flash memory loading in tablets dipped 25 per cent from 32.1-24GB on average. The fall during H1 is even greater, down 42 per cent as tablet memory skids to 14GB.

"The increasing prevalence of cloud and streaming services has reduced the requirement for large amounts of NAND flash in smartphones and tablets," said Ryan Chien, analyst for memory and storage at IHS. "Mobile device brands increasingly are offering their own application ecosystems and online storage benefits that perform the same functions as onboard NAND flash. With mobile platforms a leading growth driver for the NAND industry, this trend represents a major cause of concern for flash memory makers."

The prevalence of smartphones has had the effect of driving up the total amount of NAND flash memory being used in cell phones. However, growth in memory usage overall is flattening.

For instance, the most recent iterations of two of the best-selling smartphones in the industry, the Apple iPhone 5 and the Samsung Galaxy S III, have the same storage options as their predecessors. This comes in stark contrast to the past, when a new model from either maker would offer a discernible bump up in NAND flash density options.

For tablets, the high densities that were the standard in tablet models of previous years have been overshadowed by lower-cost tablets with lighter NAND loading. Many consumers appear to find their experience of using smaller-sized tablets undiminished compared to using larger models, which has emboldened tablet makers such as Google and Amazon to release smaller form factors such as 7-9in tablets. The move has exacted a toll on the NAND industry, because the smaller-sized tablets in the teardowns average just 50 per cent of the flash loading of their larger 10in counterparts.

Even the so-called sweet spot for NAND density has grown slowly for large and small tablets alike. The preferred memory configuration for 10in tablets is between 16 and 32GB. For the 7in segment, the sweet spot is likewise dominated by 16GB products, with 8GB units also popular.

The advantages of the cloud have also diminished consumer usage of the microSD memory cardanother major source of revenue for NAND flash makers. A removable device that can be plugged into phones at will, the microSD card still plays a big role in providing additional storage for entry-level smartphones as well as lower-end handsets known as feature phones. However, the detachable cards can no longer be used in many high-end cell phones, which instead have opted for embedded storage, doing away with any sort of card slot on the phone.

Compounding difficulties, the embedded storage in handsets has not increased enough to compensate for the drop off in slot attach rates. As a result, local storage in smartphone teardowns appears to have leveled off at 16GB, a worrisome sign for NAND flash suppliers.

Overall, the slowdown in NAND loading for handsets and tablets is driving manufacturers to seek greener pastures elsewhere. Micron Technology and SanDisk, for instance, are aggressively exploring NAND flash options in the solid state drive marketa faster-growing segment with more opportunities to add value. Both are nearing the goal of deriving 10 per cent of their revenue attained from SSDs, with plans to expand further.

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