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Cellphones Head the List for Flash-Memory Consumption

With the global technology market embracing the seismic shift to smart phones, it comes as no surprise that cellphones as a whole will become the world’s single largest consumer of flash memory in 2013. The data comes from information and analytics supplier IHS’s IHS iSuppli Flash Dynamics Market Brief.

Though a vast array of products use NAND flash memory, cellphones will take the top spot with a 24.6% share of global bit shipments, up from second place in 2012 with 23.3% (see the figure). Flash storage cards, the leading flash-memory consumer in 2012, tumbles to third place this year with a 19.7% share. Solid-state drives (SSDs) come in second with a 20.6% share, up two spots from last year.

Other major flash-memory players in the market are USB flash drives, tablet PCs, and MP3 players (ranked 4 through 6). All told, the top six devices will account for 93.2% market share of projected flash-memory usage in 2013. The remaining slice of the pie splits among 10 products, such as personal navigation devices, video camcorders, handheld game players, and digital set-top boxes.

“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,” says Ryan Chien, IHS memory and storage analyst. “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.”

Last month’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) and Storage Visions events highlighted NAND flash usage in a number of applications. For instance, Intel announced new requirements for expensive ultrabook touchscreens, which will likely increase cache SSD usage relative to standalone SSDs due to BOM costs. Cache SSDs, employed alongside a hard drive to form a combined storage solution in Ultrabooks, should quickly adopt the M.2 format—a slim, case-less design with a SATA- or PCI Express-compatible connector.

Mobiplug, NXP, and Panasonic unveiled flash solution for the smart home. Meanwhile, Ford released a software development kit for its Sync infotainment system, which fosters an application ecosystem to benefit awareness and penetration of in-car storage.

Toshiba and Seagate Technology discussed hybrid hard drives, which differ from cache SSDs in that they integrate the flash-memory component within the hard drive. Both companies believe 8-Gbyte, single-level-cell NAND caches will suffice for most user needs (on the other hand, Intel’s Rapid Storage Technology requirement for ultrabooks call for 24 Gbytes of NAND, typically as cache SSD).

Several portables highlighted the use of flash drives and flash cards. Kingston Technology unveiled a 1-Tbyte USB 3.0 flash drive; Micron Technology launched flash cards supporting the XQD standard for professional-grade media capture; and Plextor revealed a new Embedded Multimedia Card (eMMC) solution.

In terms of revenue, the Market Brief deems that a rebound is imminent for the NAND industry this year. It projects revenue to climb to a record $22 billion in 2013, up from $20 billion last year. Revenue in 2012 contracted from $21 billion in 2011.

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