Apple's anticipated tablet PC won't be introduced until Jan. 27, yet analysts have already been projecting its influence on various supply markets.
Since the new device apparently will rely heavily on NAND flash for its computing and storage needs, and because the most recent products Apple has produced have tended to sell very well, the NAND flash industry may be looking at a major stabilizing factor.
NAND flash is the reigning standard nonvolatile form of storage used in solid-state drives, iPods, cell phones, thumb drives, servers, storage arrays and other hardware.
Now it will power an entirely new product. At least two industry analysts, Matt Thornton of AVI Securities and Daniel Amir of Lazard Capital Markets, have said they believe that demand for the new Apple device will be high enough to keep the entire flash market stabilized-the flash business having been as up-and-down as a carnival ride until just a year ago, when demand finally caught up with supply, thanks largely to brisk iPhone sales.
Amir, Internet analyst Colin Sebastian and the Lazard team wrote in a Jan. 25 report:
""Our analysis in the report suggests that the launch of Apple's 64GB NAND tablet this week could lead to further stability in the NAND market in 1H10. We estimate that the tablet could be the equivalent of at least 10M iPhones and as many as 50M in the first year of its launch.""
Thorton wrote that he believes Apple could build as many as 10 million tablets in the first year. Of course, it remains to be seen whether the company can actually sell them; tablets have been around a long while but have never caught the buying public's imagination.
"However, with Apple's sales panache and the loyalty of its customer base, it wouldn't surprise me if sales of these things took off right away," one analyst who asked not to be named in this story told eWEEK.
"I agree with their bullishness," Jim Handy of Objective Analysis told eWEEK, referring to Amir and Thorton. "2010 will be a good market for memories of all kinds with firm pricing and increasing earnings.
"As for tablets, I am not sure how Apple's offering differs from all those tablets that have not taken off in the past couple of decades. Perhaps Apple has a way to make them popular. If so, that would be good for NAND, provided that there really is a lot of NAND in each tablet. There is so much we don't know."
The word is that the Apple tablet PCs-which some people are calling "glorified iPhones"-will retail for between $600 and $700.
Multiple suppliers of flash for Apple
Apple obtains its NAND flash chips from a number of different sources. On July 22, the company announced a long-term agreement with Toshiba to augment Apple's already high intake of the solid-state processors.
Apple's contract with Toshiba, the world's second-largest supplier of NAND flash, has served as a major boost for the Japanese chip and device manufacturer. The company was hit hard in its flash business by financial losses in 2007 and 2008 due to cutthroat price competition with the No. 1 supplier, Samsung.
The tablet computer that Apple is expected to introduce on Jan. 27 will feature its own new applications plus some already found on iPhones, industry insiders are saying.
However, iPhones applications-engineered for 3.5-inch diagonal screens-will need to be modified greatly in order to run on the 10-inch high-definition screen predicted for the tablet. This larger display also is likely to motivate developers to create applications that can be used by multiple players.