USA: The exploding market for the so-called tablet PC has been an interesting surprise for analysts and industry types alike. This completely new form of PC has acted as a sort of hybrid between the traditional laptop and high end smartphones.
Apple has been the first to jump on this trend, simply dominating the tablet market with its incredibly popular iPad, producing over 2 million per month, and still under serving the market. At the same time, a plethora of new tablet offerings from competitors hoping to capture their own consumers are coming to market, including the Playbook from RIM and the Slate 500 from HP.
Although sales of high end laptop PCs and smartphones have been, and will continue to be, relatively insulated from the booming popularity of these devices, tablet sales will significantly impact the sale of netbooks – cheap PCs based on entry-level processors and inexpensive hard drives. This has happened as potential buyers who would have otherwise opted to purchase a netbook as a supplementary device, instead migrate to tablet offerings.
In addition to forever changing the netbook market, which singlehandedly supported the PC industry throughout the recession, this will have a monumental effect in the future of the HDDs. Over the past few years, traditional platter HDDs were far more popular in netbook and low-end laptops, than solid-state drives using NAND flash memory.
But now, the majority of tablet PCs on the market use Flash-based storage for the improved speed and robustness needed to survive various drops and bumps that such a device will incur during its life.
The company with the most to lose from tablets could be Japan’s Hitachi Global Storage Technologies, as it has the biggest portion of mobile HDDs in its product portfolio. Other major suppliers of mobile HDDs, including Western Digital, Seagate Technology, Toshiba, and Samsung, will likewise see major declines across their business segment.
Still, these suppliers understand the challenges they are facing. Hitachi has announced an innovative new hybrid drive that combines a traditional optical platter with Micron's densest NAND 25-nanometer (nm) NAND flash memory, creating a mass storage and removable media device targeted at thin and light tablets and notebooks with only space for a single drive.
Other major players, such as Seagate and Western Digital, expect that some future tablets will continue to sport built-in hard drives, taking advantage of the still lower cost and higher capacity. In response, each player has introduced their own highest capacity lines of external portable hard drives, each sporting up to 3TB of capacity and a USB 3.0 interface.
Despite the potential losses in netbooks affecting sales, the overall HDD market is expected to remain healthy as a whole, thanks to a returning need for increased storage capacity in the business and data center markets. In these situations, most firms opt for network storage or cloud storage, both of which are powered by hard drives.