Cellphones as a whole are set to become the world’s single largest consumer of flash memory this year, according to the IHS iSuppli, in yet another sign of the pre-eminent position smartphones now hold in the global technology market. While a vast array of products now make use of NAND flash memory, cellphones are expected to take the lead spot in 2013 with a 24.6 percent share of global bit shipments, up from second place in 2012 with 23.3 percent.
“With smartphones accounting for an ever- increasing portion of the global cellphone business, the mobile handset market is demanding more and more memory, particularly flash,” said Ryan Chien, an analyst for memory and storage at IHS. “This is causing the cellphone business to eclipse all other application markets for flash usage. Indeed, the shift in flash demand is reflective of a widespread transition in technology markets to focus more on mobile platforms like smartphones.”
The device last year with the largest market share of flash memory consumption, flash storage cards, is set to tumble to third place this year with a 19.7 percent share of flash consumption. Sitting between handsets and flash storage cards will be solid state drives (SSD), ranked the No. 2 consumer this year with 20.6 percent, up two spots from 2012.
Other devices in 2013 with prominent market share in flash consumption will include No. 4-ranked USB flash drives, tablet PCs in fifth place, and MP3 players in sixth. Together, the Top 6 devices will account for 93.2 percent market share of projected flash memory usage this year.
The remaining share will then be split among 10 products, including personal navigation devices, video camcorders, handheld game players and digital set-top boxes.
The use of NAND flash in various applications was a major theme at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) and the Storage Visions events, both held last month in Las Vegas.
For Ultrabooks, Intel announced new requirements for expensive touch screens, likely increasing cache SSD usage relative to standalone SSDs because of cost pressures related to the bill of materials (BOM).
Cache SSDs, which are used alongside a hard drive to form a combined storage solution in Ultrabooks, should quickly adopt the M.2 format, a slim caseless design with a connector compatible with the SATA or PCI Express buses.
On the enterprise side, the SCSI Express interface effort was predicted to release a Linux driver early this year and controllers by 2014—a cadence about 18 months behind the similar NVM Express.
Also at the shows, flash solutions for the smart home were trotted out by the likes of Mobiplug, NXP and Panasonic. In automobiles, Ford released a software development kit for its Sync infotainment system, intended to benefit awareness and penetration of in-car storage by fostering an application ecosystem.
Toshiba and Seagate Technology discussed individual efforts in hybrid hard drives, different from cache SSD in that hybrids feature the flash memory component integrated within the hard drive, not outside it. Both companies said they believe 8-gigabyte, single-level-cell NAND caches to be sufficient for most user needs, in contrast to Intel’s Rapid Storage Technology requirement for Ultrabooks that calls for 24 gigabytes of NAND, typically as cache SSD.
In the area of flash drives and flash cards, several portable products grabbed the limelight. Kingston Technology introduced a 1-terabyte USB 3.0 flash drive—at a time when most manufacturers have not even showcased 512-gigabyte models. Micron Technology launched flash cards supporting the XQD standard for professional-grade media capture, while Plextor unveiled a new Embedded Multimedia Card (eMMC) solution, perhaps leveraging its relationship with Marvell and its investment in Memoright’s firmware efforts. More competition here is critical for the smorgasbord of smartphones, tablets, “superphones” and smart cameras that demand faster storage.
While many products and prototypes at CES will serve small niche markets or never even see the light of day, many flash-related developments look to be substantive improvements that will have major effects on upgrading user experience of a device.
As the intersection of flash, storage and the cloud deepens in the consumer and enterprise environments, a bounce-back for the NAND industry is imminent this year, with revenue projected to climb to a record $22 billion, up from $20 billion last year. Revenue in 2012 had contracted after industry takings of $21 billion in 2011.