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Apple's iPad shaking up hard drive industry - report

post #1 of 20
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As Apple's success with the iPad continues to grow, hard drive makers warn that sales of Apple's tablet will continue eating away at sales of hard drive-equipped PCs.

Western Digital Chief Executive John Coyne told analysts Tuesday during an earnings call that tablet computers such as Apple's iPad are slowing the hard drive business, especially on the low-end. The iPad could cause as much as a 10 to 20 percent reduction in shipments of low-end laptops and netbooks over the next few quarters, Reuters noted Coyne as saying.

"What I would say to investors is to look at the long-term demand for storage, the fact is the most appropriate solution for mass volume storage is hard drives and to look at the long-term progress the industry has made over the last 10 years," said Coyne in an effort to reassure investors.

Both Western Digital and rival hard drive manufacturer Seagate watched their stock price steadily drop during the early part of this year, although rumors of buyouts have helped the stocks rally in recent weeks. According to Reuters, some analysts view Western Digital as a "good candidate for a leveraged buyout" because of its low share price and strong cash flow. Western Digital's stock price has fallen 35 percent since January.

Several private equity firms have reportedly expressed interest in purchasing Seagate and taking it private, Reuters reports. The company has been down that road before; it went private in 2000, re-entering the public market in 2002. Seagate will report its quarterly earnings on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, as hard drive makers suffer, NAND flash makers may benefit from the upheaval. Japanese newspaper Nikkei projected Wednesday that Toshiba will beat its first-half of the year operating profit forecast by more than 43 percent due to strong sales of flash memory chips, according to Reuters. In a filing with the U.S. Federal Communications Commission, Apple listed Toshiba as the provider of the iPad's NAND flash storage, although teardown specialists at iFixit found a Samsung flash chip inside the iPad unit they disassembled.

Apple's rapid consumption of flash memory has caused several worldwide shortages as the company has moved toward NAND storage solutions. The Cupertino, Calif., company currently uses NAND flash in a wide variety of its products, including the new $99 Apple TV.

Apple revealed Monday that it had sold a record 4.19 million iPads in the September quarter, outselling its Mac computer line after just two quarters of availability. Wall Street analysts had expected higher sales of the iPad, but supply had remained constrained throughout the quarter. According to iSuppli, NAND flash is one of the components limiting production of the tablet device.

Another blow to hard drive manufacturers could come in the form of an updated MacBook Air. Sources say the next-generation MacBook Air, which is expected to be unveiled at Wednesday's "Back to the Mac" event, could do away with the conventional hard-disk drive (HDD) and high-end solid-state drive (SSD) in favor of a smaller "SSD Card" resembling a stick of RAM.
post #2 of 20
Sounds reminiscent of what manufacturers of other innovation lapped products said, like 8-Track, cassettes, CDs, VCRs, picture tubes, cork, lambskin, etc...

For the near term, hard drive based storage is the future, but the writing is in the wall. That graffiti started years ago with the first 64MB Thumb Drive for $200. We all knew then that EVENTUALLY flash memory would be the future. In five years 200GB will cost $64 and the game will be over. In ten years maybe everything will be on the cloud (a scary thought for it's own reason).
post #3 of 20
Quote:
Originally Posted by FormerARSgm View Post

.... We all knew then that EVENTUALLY flash memory would be the future. In five years 200GB will cost $64 and the game will be over. In ten years maybe everything will be on the cloud (a scary thought for it's own reason).

Yeah, and in the cloud - I guess everything is back on hard drives again. So, long term might very well be hard drives after all. A thousand years from now though, maybe we store it Johnny Mnemonic style
post #4 of 20
Quote:
Originally Posted by palegolas View Post

Yeah, and in the cloud - I guess everything is back on hard drives again.

Exactly. The movement is toward high capacity hard drives and NAND for the consumer space. Suits me to a tee!

Still, it would be nice to see an Apple iOS based NAS with a normal hard drive.

Just do it Steve, I know you want to.
post #5 of 20
Well, if WD & Seagate aren't keeping up and broadening their portfolio into NAND and other storage tech, they may become dinosaurs...
post #6 of 20
Quote:
Originally Posted by libertyforall View Post

Well, if WD & Seagate aren't keeping up and broadening their portfolio into NAND and other storage tech, they may become dinosaurs...

They only got into Flash early this year or later last year.
I wonder why they were slow to get into Flash?

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post #7 of 20
The MacBook Air isn't one of Apple big sellers. It's currently positioned as their "executive class" laptop, not their mainstream laptop.

But the MacBook *is* Apple's mainstream laptop. And I expect Apple to expand the MacBook line from the current hard-drive based white plastic model to two aluminum unibody models. Neither of which will have an optical drive, and possibly both with the new flash "card" NAND mass storage instead of HD or SSD mass storage.

That alone isn't enough to really hurt the hard drive makers. But if Apple sells the 11.6" MacBook for $799 without a hard drive, that will definitely hurt. And further down the road, Apple won't be the only laptop maker to use the "card" NAND mass storage. Especially if it's cheaper than SSDs.

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post #8 of 20
Steve must be thinking "We're paying billions for all that NAND. What if we made it ourselves?"

Would it make sense, long-term, for Apple to own a NAND memory factory?
Or is it better to buy a touchscreen factory?

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post #9 of 20
What would it take to make a laptop with built in redundancy using multiple smaller flash drives? Imagine building a RAID 5 disk array into a laptop where the disks are spread out wherever there is room in the computer. If designed correctly, there would be both a speed benefit as the data is written over multiple disks and also a redundancy as the parity would be written to another disk. This could potentially save space as all the nooks and crannies could be filled better and potentially reduce cost as lower density NAND drives could be used. The downside is that the disk would not easily be upgradeable.
post #10 of 20
Really this idea that Flash storage model should be modeled after the mechanical and electrical standards of the magnetic industry was really stupid. Flash comes to use just like every other piece of electronics ready to be soldered to a PC board. There is no need to emulate a disk.

What bothers me about this rumored prototype AIR is that it is using SATA for the flash interface. That is fairly stupid as the interface is already to slow. So it looks like a half assed solution.

Hopefully it is just a prototype and Apple won't saddle us with a useless interface standard. For the long term you need to support PCI Express for flash storage.
post #11 of 20
Good post wizard. 100% agree.
post #12 of 20
Quote:
Originally Posted by palegolas View Post

Yeah, and in the cloud - I guess everything is back on hard drives again. So, long term might very well be hard drives after all. A thousand years from now though, maybe we store it Johnny Mnemonic style

Didn't his brain have a 80GB limitation and had to "erase" some of his childhood memories to "double" the capacity?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Johnny_Mnemonic_(film)

I think I'd stick with the cloud.
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post #13 of 20
Quote:
Originally Posted by FormerARSgm View Post

Sounds reminiscent of what manufacturers of other innovation lapped products said, like 8-Track, cassettes, CDs, VCRs, picture tubes, cork, lambskin, etc...

For the near term, hard drive based storage is the future, but the writing is in the wall. That graffiti started years ago with the first 64MB Thumb Drive for $200. We all knew then that EVENTUALLY flash memory would be the future. In five years 200GB will cost $64 and the game will be over. In ten years maybe everything will be on the cloud (a scary thought for it's own reason).

Yep and one has to ask where was their foresight? Why didn't they invest in new technologies? It reminds me of Kodak refusing to concede silver halide to pixels till it was too late.
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post #14 of 20
Quote:
Originally Posted by SockRolid View Post

Steve must be thinking "We're paying billions for all that NAND. What if we made it ourselves?"

Would it make sense, long-term, for Apple to own a NAND memory factory?
Or is it better to buy a touchscreen factory?

Or both ... I keep thinking Apple needs a finger in the wi-fi tech arena too in some form.
Enjoying the new Mac Pro ... it's smokin'
Been using Apple since Apple ][ - Long on AAPL so biased
nMac Pro 6 Core, MacBookPro i7, MacBookPro i5, iPhones 5 and 5s, iPad Air, 2013 Mac mini.
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post #15 of 20
Quote:
Originally Posted by wizard69 View Post

What bothers me about this rumored prototype AIR is that it is using SATA for the flash interface. That is fairly stupid as the interface is already to slow. So it looks like a half assed solution.

Hopefully it is just a prototype and Apple won't saddle us with a useless interface standard. For the long term you need to support PCI Express for flash storage.

I don't agree at all. SATA isn't just a cable, it defines the entire bus interface.

If you wanted to replace it you would need to create an entirely new communication specification, including equivalents for SATA enhancements like NCQ, all the while making sure you didn't step on anyone else's patents.

After you define the new interface you would need to (at great expense) have host controller chips designed that implement the new interface and get (once again at great expense) drive\\NAND manufactures to incorporate the new controller chip into their designs.

Once the hardware side was complete you would need to create OS drivers for the new interface and go through huge amounts of testing to make them on par with the tried and tested SATA drivers.

All of this when SATA can already do 600 MB/s, which is well beyond the capabilities of any flash drive you'll be putting into a consumer PC, especially an AIR.
post #16 of 20
Quote:
Originally Posted by Firefly7475 View Post

I don't agree at all. SATA isn't just a cable, it defines the entire bus interface.

If you wanted to replace it you would need to create an entirely new communication specification, including equivalents for SATA enhancements like NCQ, all the while making sure you didn't step on anyone else's patents.

After you define the new interface you would need to (at great expense) have host controller chips designed that implement the new interface and get (once again at great expense) drive\\NAND manufactures to incorporate the new controller chip into their designs.

Once the hardware side was complete you would need to create OS drivers for the new interface and go through huge amounts of testing to make them on par with the tried and tested SATA drivers.

All of this when SATA can already do 600 MB/s, which is well beyond the capabilities of any flash drive you'll be putting into a consumer PC, especially an AIR.

Agreed. On top of all that, a SATA SSD is normally replaceable and upgradeable. Hopefully, that's the case with the unenclosed SSD. I wouldn't want to be stuck with whatever the laptop was built with, with no way of upgrading if I need more storage. That's fine for an iPad, not so for a laptop. Besides, SATA is an industry standard, and Apple already got too much grief in the past from people who had usually legitimate complaints about them eschewing industry standards in favor of proprietary hardware.
post #17 of 20
I like the "instant on" of the Flash. My next computer will be an iPad and then when my iMac finally breaks, which I think is entering its 5th year, I'll get the new MBA!

I put away my ext. HD and bring it out once a month for backup. Less cables, no pwr brick and one less item sitting on my desk. I use DropBox and iDisk. Looking for the best cloud solution.

best
post #18 of 20
Quote:
Originally Posted by digitalclips View Post

Yep and one has to ask where was their foresight? Why didn't they invest in new technologies? It reminds me of Kodak refusing to concede silver halide to pixels till it was too late.

So the question arises to you and others who think as such: How much did you personally invest in the new technology?

How many of us have invested and bought shares in Apple, if ever at all?

And just how many of the companies that could bring about the new technology would you be comfortable that they have the expertise to develop it?

But as they say, hindsight is always better than foresight.
post #19 of 20
Quote:
Originally Posted by Kolchak View Post

Agreed. On top of all that, a SATA SSD is normally replaceable and upgradeable. Hopefully, that's the case with the unenclosed SSD. I wouldn't want to be stuck with whatever the laptop was built with, with no way of upgrading if I need more storage. That's fine for an iPad, not so for a laptop. Besides, SATA is an industry standard, and Apple already got too much grief in the past from people who had usually legitimate complaints about them eschewing industry standards in favor of proprietary hardware.

Agreed that SATA is an okay option, and industry standard interfaces are the best way to go, although I think that PCI Express could be a better choice - it's also a standard interface, has already been used by other companies for super-fast RAM disk storage cards, etc.

If done correctly (and if/when component prices drop) with SLC Flash or super-fast MLC Flash with the right controller, the "drive" could theoretically transfer 8GB/s of data on a PCI Express x16 bus - that's about 13 times faster than SATA, making MacOS X booting nearly instantly a practical reality.
post #20 of 20
They have nothing to worry about. Even if most people are using Flash for their main disk in 2 years, another trend is the increasing amount of digital media people own, and they will need large secondary storage for that. Plus, more people understand about the importance of backup these days.
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