Apple to buy 500 million Samsung NAND flash chips; Video iPod? Robson? Tablet? All of the Above? - Macenstein

Apple to buy 500 million Samsung NAND flash chips; Video iPod? Robson? Tablet? All of the Above?

Posted by Helper Monkey

According to an EE Times report (subscription required) Apple is placing an order for 500 million Samsung NAND flash chips this month. While the report claims these chips will be used in iPhones and iPods, the number seems a little optimistic, even for Apple’s hugely successful nano and shuffle music player to account for. Furthermore, the report claims these chips will be used in iPods and iPhones only from from June 2007 to December 2007, which leads to some questions…

First, while the iPhone could conceivably sell a million units, odds are to use 500 million of these chips in a 6 month period, Apple would have to sell way more than that (about 450 million more). Right now, the nano uses flash chips, but the nano would most likely also not account for that number. So, we are left wondering what all those flash chips will be used for?

Theory 1 around here is perhaps we will finally see the 6th gen flash-based video iPod, or “iPhone without the phone”, as we like to say. Sales of such a device (depending on price) would likely account for a good portion of those sales. Each of those would necessitate using at least 6 of the 4GB NAND chips to make an entry-level 24 GB flash-based video iPod, and likely as many as 10 per iPod. So the real question here is by ordering such a high volume of chips, will Apple be able to keep the price of such an iPod significantly below that of the iPhone?

Theory 2 is perhaps we are finally on the verge of seeing Apple incorporate that Robson Technology we mentioned back in 2005 into their laptop offerings, or,

Theory 3, perhaps they will be used in the long-rumored ultra-portable flash-based Mac tablet/laptops.

We’re going with a combination of theories 1, 2, and 3 for the moment, as Apple is pretty much still 75% about the iPod and iPhone these days, almost all (intel) PC laptops will begin to incorporate Intel’s Robson technology in the coming year, and rumors of the flash-based ultra portable have been too persistent to write off as merely wishful thinking.

Thanks to faithful Macenstein reader rico for the tip!

[UPDATE] Yes, as pointed out by faithful Macenstein reader Kiki, our math is a bit off here. These NAND Chips are 4 Gbit chips, not 4 GB chips. Each GBit is 1/8th of a GB, so in reality an order for 500 4 Gbit chips is the equivalent of Apple ordering 62.5 million 4GB chips (we think, please double-check).

This number is still quite high, given that last quarter Apple reported selling “only” 10.5 million iPods (of which the non-flash based video iPods likely accounted for a large portion).

So in the time period between June to December, to justify 500 million of these chips, Apple would still have to sell somewhere between 30 to 90 million iPhones and nanos (depending on whether they are 2, 4 or 8 GB models).

Initial estimates put sales of the iPhone at 4 million for 2007. Even using the theoretical example that Apple sells only the 8 GB model of iPhone and Nano, 30 million is still close to the total amount of iPods Apple sold in Q4 2006 (July – September 2006 = 8 million) and Q1 2007 (October-December 2006 = 21 million) of last year.

Apple doesn’t break out individual sales numbers for iPods (and yes, even the shuffle counts as an iPod), so to guess how many of those 30 million it sold in the 2nd half of last year were flash-based nanos is difficult, but let’s say it accounted for half the total. That would mean Apple sold 15 million nanos (at 2 GB, 4 GB, and 8 GB sizes). So it would seem Apple expects to use about 47 million more 4 GB chips in the next 7 months than it did in the same time last year.

Even with a projection of 4 million iPhones to be sold this year, that’s still about 25 million chips left to put somewhere.

And one final thought, Samsung is not Apple’s only supplier of NAND chips.

13 Responses to “Apple to buy 500 million Samsung NAND flash chips; Video iPod? Robson? Tablet? All of the Above?”
  1. aga says:

    There are so many places one could use these.

    Apple could distribute Leopard on them.
    Apple could create their own Compact Flash type Modules to plug into Macs/iPods. This could take the storage out of the device [like digital cameras do]
    Apple could the get into the Digital camera / video camera business.

    Let’s see… where else could we put these things…. hmm
    How about something to hook into that new Apple Airport ‘N’ for storage?
    Then there’s those Servers, they draw a lot of heat etc for HD’s. bet we could offset some cooling costs with flash modules, not to mention power costs.

    And yes, they can go to all flash based iPods, take the 2.5″ drive out of the laptops and put 1.8″ drives and flash in their place. All sorts of things you can do when the price of components drops.

    But where does all of this really lead us? Incremental product updates. And it doesn’t explain why Apple is only buying all them chips from one partner. They do have other partners, and you want to keep them feeding the Apple, which means Apple is buying more than just 500 million flash parts… Samsung, Intel… go read who they fed ~1 Billion to over a year ago, they are buying parts from all of them too.

    So where do you think all the other millions of parts are going? I’ll tell you. The writing is on the wall. You just have to know your history. 5.25″ disks, dead. 3.5″ disks, dead. CDs, pretty much dead. DVDs, dying. HD DVD and Blue Ray, the next phase. But how do you distribute smaller files sizes? What do you do when an HD DVD doesn’t hold enough? Come out with a new disc? Buy a new Player? Buy new cables?… Nope, you change the distribution method.

    Here comes the new iTunes store. Apple can now take on RIAA. Apple can be it’s own music lable. Apple can sell music on CDs. Apple can Sell DVDs, and what better way to sell all of that content, to people who want to own it [physically], than to sell it on Flash. Flash is cheap to mail, they can send you stacks of it. It’s easy to plug in, and if every card is read separately, you can access 127 cards at once (in theory). Yes, you heard it right, Apple is going to distribute iTunes albums and movies on flash. they are working on an Apple TV add on that you put the cards into, or you can use it with your new iMac TV. 500 Million is just an intial order. The other reason for using the flash, is because it takes up less room, and in case you all haven’t noticed, Apple Stores are small, and they like to make as much money per square foot as possible. Best way to do this is to shrink the package size. Now, Apple can sell DVDs in stores on flash. Yeah, you might want to buy one and down load it, but if i walk into an Apple store, want to buy an Apple TV, and have it pre-loaded with my 10 favorite movies and my favorite TV shows…. well, there you have it. PLUS, DRM can be on or off on the card.

    Well, now you Know! 😉

    btw, all of this is speculation. this is just how i thought things should be distibuted years ago. i always hated the idea of buying juke boxes for all them disks, and it’s stupid to have to rip all those cd’s you own. the fact that you can take a stack of cards and just plug them in has always made more sense to me than the other methods. it’s like having your cd storage rack read the disks too.

  2. Pong says:

    Another big annoucement by Apple. “NOT MORE HardDrive” in
    all the Macs. That’s analogous to when apple dropped 3.5 legacy support for parallel bus, etc..

  3. Kiki's Mate says:

    Hold on. Blackfriars claim:

    “These are 4 GBit chips, so that means that a 4 GByte iPod nano or iPhone would require eight of these; an 8 GByte iPhone would need 16. Averaging out those numbers says that Apple is looking for flash supplies for somewhere around 50 million iPods and iPhones over the next nine months”

  4. WOW says:

    Yes, those numbers ARE pretty insane.

    Apple only sold their 100 millionth iPod a month or 2 ago, and that is about, what? 6 years? So in half a year they expect to sell almost another 50 million of just the flash based ones? I think that means some of these chips have to be being put in MacBooks. You could run the whole of OS X on 2-4GB, and have a pretty damn snappy machine with 0 start up times… Keep a real hard drive for now, but have a 4GB flash drive in their too.

  5. Jeff Schaffer says:

    OR, Apple is trying to corner the market and keep this technology OFF the market so other manufacturers can’t use it in their devices.

    Most likely reason. And it will get them in trouble eventually.

  6. alberto says:

    your wrong its 15,625,000 4 gb flash

  7. patrick says:

    Apple announcing a 16GB video I-Pod will take 32 chips of NAND flash/ 500,000,000 million chips = 15,625,000 I-Pods.

  8. gws says:

    Jeff, not likely. No way to “corner” a market when you don’t control the supply. Last year, Apple paid hard cash to pre-order flash memory and by the looks of it, has used it all or they wouldn’t be buying more now. They have plans for all of this stuff, and probably will use it wherever they can. iPods have a relatively poor HDD reliability history in my experience. The HDD technology just isn’t up to the job, shockwise.

    I expect that for their flash based product plans, they will be supply constrained right across the board.

    – gws

  9. floki1 says:

    500.000.0000 million 4GBit NAND flash chips

    4 GB Flash Disk = 8 x 4GBit NAND flash chips
    8 GB Flash Disk = 16 x 4GBit NAND flash chips
    16 GB Flash Disk = 32 x 4GBit NAND flash chips
    32 GB Flash Disk = 64 x 4GBit NAND flash chips
    64 GB Flash Disk = 128 x 4GBit NAND flash chips
    128 GB Flash Disk = 256 x 4GBit NAND flash chips

    2 Mio iPhone’s with 4 GB Flash Disk = 16 Mio NAND flash chips
    2 Mio iPhone’s with 8 GB Flash Disk = 32 Mio NAND flash chips

    5 Mio Video iPod with 16 GB Flash Disk = 160 Mio NAND flash chips
    3 Mio Video iPod with 32 GB Flash Disk = 192 Mio NAND flash chips

    0.5 Mio MacBook Thin Laptops with 32 GB Flash Disk = 32 Mio NAND flash chips

    Sum: 432 Mio NAND flash chips

    So we order 500 Mio NAND flash chips

  10. I don’t really think Jeff’s response that apple is trying to keep this technology off the market is close at all. I don’t see how apple could even dream that their order would do that.

  11. Neo says:

    Name: Unknown; possibly Mac Nano; also Mac Touch, Mac Tablet, Mac Slate (probably decided by now but I don’t know what it i)

    based on many AppleTV components

    black plastic or carbon, brushed aluminum, glossy glass touch screen, cross between iMac and iPhone design cues, but subtle “rubberized” area on back for grip

    7.4 x 4.8 inches, .6 inches thick

    7 inch diagonal display, 960 x 540 pixels (16:9 ratio)

    5-8 hours battery life

    Intel processor


    This is till an Edge device! But it is not attached to AT&T. Use the wi-fi for free or get your own data plan from almost any carrier. Why? This is not a phone. And one of its targets is enterprise, and a Fortune 500 company is not going to change carrier’s companywide for a new device, but if they can add it onto their Verizon or whatever account, no prob.


    This device may offer GPS integration with Google Maps, or it may be an option. Or it may not be included at all.

    32GB or 64GB flash drive

    built-in iSight camera (no other built-in camera); video iChat over Wi_Fi only; 1-on-1 only

    1 USB port that can access optical drives, burners, hard drives, scanners, printers, cameras, KEYBOARDS

    no optical drive (of course) or any expansion (i.e. SD or other memory cards) slot

    built-in stereo speakers

    headphone jack

    power/sleep button

    home button on right hand side, but can be rotated to portrait in certain apps, placing home button at bottom.

    The OS is Apple’s modified, touch-input, Leopard-light version first seen on the iPhone, but more feature rich and includes a basic Finder and a form of pull-down menu.

    Note that this makes 4 versions of OS X – the very basic version on the Apple TV, the iPhone version, this version, and the full version. They all work completely harmoniously together, have extremely reasonable processor/RAM/storage requirements, are very stable, continually gain robust and rich features, and are developed and maintained by a team of programmers a fraction of the size of the Windows team.

    The SDK soon being released for the iPhone is really an SDK that was always planned for this device – the demand for 3rd party apps on the iPhone was foreseen, but not its intensity. So, what types of apps will be developed for this device? A whole lot, Apple hopes. This represents a whole new software platform, but much of the code for any desktop Leopard app can be “recycled” for this platform….including a “lite” version of iLife – this device will run an iTunes much like the full version, along with iCal, an almost feature-parity version of Mail, and lite versions of iChat, iPhoto, iWeb and even a resolution-limited and severely feature-stripped iMovie!

    The Mac Touch can print to many printers using CUPS! It can access servers and mount network volumes of almost all types! VPN supported out of the box.

    Okay, sounds pretty great, the power of OS X and Apple’s software suite in a tiny, powerful package with a brilliant, high resolution touchscreen, that can print, surf, access peripherals and more. You can download a movie from iTunes and play it, with sound, for an audience. You can video iChat.You can listen to your music on the subway home. You can connect your digital camera, load the photos, and post them to a gallery or your .Mac account.

    For someone who has a PC, perhaps one at home they share with other family members, this could be a unique personal machine for the “digital lifestyle” – all the emailing, surfing, blogging, IMing, video chatting, blogging, YouTubing and more that you can eat. Soon a plethora of 3rd party apps could offer games, productivity and more.

    What about as an enterprise machine? Get corporate email and surf anywhere in HQ or downtown, login via VPN from home, etc. But a “lite” version of iWork will sweeten the deal. Awesome spreadsheet, presentation and word processing/desktop publishing, with compatability with Office if needed. Light, durable, a days battery charge, ultimately portable from meeting to meeting yet powerful.

    But lets look at the pitfalls tablets or PDAs have fallen into while trying to scale the enterprise mountain:

    1. Underpowered, overpriced.
    In the past, many simple, relatively wimpy PDAs running proprietary handheld-only operating systems have cost considerably more than desktop machines. Stagnant software environments failed to deliver robust applications. The “underpowered” aspect has been, to a degree, addressed.The Sony Vaio UX Micro boasts an Intel Core Duo 2 processor at 1.2GHz that is similar (identical?) to whats inside the Mac Nano, and runs a desktop OS (admittedly Windows Vista) – specs similar to some low-end notebooks of a year or so ago. But, it starts at $2,499 – about $2,000 more than that laptop. And if it barely has enough power to open a 5MB PowerPoint file why go through the hassle?

    2. Software drought.
    Any machine-maker has been largely dependent on 3rd parties for the productivity software to run on these machines, usually Microsoft. And if they decide to develop it in-house, they face the daunting and expensive task of assembling a programming team and starting from scratch.

    3. Too confusing.
    These PDAs, tablets and handhelds have used stylus, mini-keyboards, mini-trackballs, mini-joysticks and more as input devices. They have things that pop out, slide out, swivel out and sometimes just fall out. They are often covered in buttons and ports. PDAs, tablet computers and handheld enterprise computing devices take 2-3 times the IT support, even further magnifying their cost.

    4. Limited use.
    After all this fuss, their lack of computing, difficulty in day-to-day use, and lack of software availability mean most of these devices end up being relegated to one or two simple tasks – to check email while out of the office, to lug files home to work on your PC over the weekend, or to share a PowerPoint file at lunch; all things which can be done, respectively, by a laptop (way cheaper), a USB thumb drive (WAAAAAAY cheaper), and printouts (just plain cheap).

    How does the Mac Nano address these issues? A suggested retail price is possibly as low as $1299. Before you say “I can get a MacBook for that!” remember that the Sony Vaio UX Micro starts at $2,499 – other similar devices go over $4,000. Even laptops with swivel screens that offer frustrating and crude handwriting recognition and are therefore called tablet PCs start at that price and go way higher. Its a compelling price point, and will get even more compelling, as you’ll see.

    The software drought will be ended, out of the box, by Apple. This version of Leopard is incredibly stable and robust and powerful, with remarkably low overhead. Comparisons to Windows Mobile, Windows Tablet PC and Windows Vista Genuine Business will be inevitable, and only Rob Enderle or Mary Jo Foley will have Windows Anything coming out on top. Throw in iLife ’08 lite and iWork ’08 lite. And offer 3rd party developers a brand new platform to sell their software to, with a fanatic audience, with a minimum of re-coding.

    Simplicity and ease-of-use are Apple’s hallmarks. Plugging in a keyboard for hardcore typists is an options, but the touchscreen will be the only other interface, and has already proven remarkable effective and popular on the iPhone and iPod Touch.There is a power/sleep button and the home button – THAT IS ALL.

    Limited use? Puh-leeze. Its ease-of-use and rich software package will encourage a wide variety of uses, not only as a business machine, but for personal fun and productivity as well. Personal movie theater on the plane, make a quick Keynote presentation, sort through vacation photos, and during the layover in Dallas, upload some to your .Mac gallery, and maybe layout and order and iPhoto book as well. Then play some poker online, video chat with the kids at home, check work email, Yahoo email, visit, the, and then just play some tunes. And maybe go to the iTunes store and buy “Mothership” by Led Zep. Let’s not forget this is also an iPod Touch ON STEROIDS!

    Now, here’s where things get really interesting. The dock. The dock, the dock, the dock. Meaning the thing you plug it into, not the glassy icons on the 3-D shelf. The dock connector on the Mac Nano is entirely new and unlike that in iPods or the iPhone. Its based on Intel’s PCI Express in order to supply more juice and bandwidth.There are 2 docks currently planned for the Mac Nano – one comes with it, and its purpose is to sync and charge. The 2nd, optional dock (possibly called the Nano Dock or humorously referred to internally as the Duo Dock – do some quick thinking Apple historians) is where things get interesting. This dock is apprx. the size of the Nano itself. It contains an 80GB laptop hard drive and a RAM slot (or perhaps 2?) with 1GB standard, configurable up from there, and a laptop video card. It has 10/100 Ethernet, 3 USB 2.0 slots, one FW400, DVI, an optical drive, and a fan. Plug your Mac Nano into this dock, and it boots into the full, desktop version of Leopard, which is installed on the flash drive. Your Cinema Display and bluetooth keyboard and mouse are now being driven by this teeny, tiny computer, but the experience is not sluggish at all. The processing power of this Mac Nano is roughly where the iMac was just a couple years ago. Don’t want to run Adobe CS3 or Final Cut on it, but 99% of what most users do will run just fine. And of course you get the full version of iLife with this, the full version of iWork will be sold separately.

    Think about it. A tablet computer running an operating system and software designed for a tablet computer effortlessly becomes a desktop computer running an operating system and software designed for a desktop computer – but it is in essence THE SAME OPERATING SYSTEM AND SOFTWARE!! The file format for all your iWork “lite” files is the same as iWork itself, no data loss or re-formatting, no copying it over, its all on the same computer.

    All the User folder and application stuff goes on the laptop hard drive in the Nano Dock, and merges with the OS when docking occurs. Leopard is installed on a flexible partition on the flash drive that is visible but protected. Limited and selectable user settings are synced to the Mac Nano, so you can take your passwords and so forth with you. Yes, the Mac Nano’s touch OS supports multiple users – after all, someone else may need to use that Mac Nano for something. You logout, turn it over to them, they log in, it becomes a whole new Mac Nano for them. FileVault makes it secure. If there is only one user account on the Mac Nano, but it is plugged into a Nano Dock with someone else’s user account on the dock’s hard drive, it will boot into Leopard with their account but they will not have access to the Mac Nano’s data.

    Does the brilliance of this strike you yet? The uniqueness? Apple has taken the strengths of OS X and leveraged them into the enterprise market in a way nobody has foreseen. Truly portable, but it can become a desktop machine in a flash. Supports true multiple users with strong security. Depending on who you talk to, there has been one worm and one Trojan horse for Mac OS X. There has still never been an OS X virus – proof-of-concept or virus-in-a-lab maybe – but not in the wild. And if you choose the plain ol’ dock version it will gladly sync with and fully cooperate with your Windows PC, but Apple will have these people using a version of OS X on the Mac Nano and carrying around the full version inside it! If Joe Business Suit gets a Mac Nano to use at work and sync with his PC, how long before he consider buying the $499 Nano Dock so that when he gets home and can plug it in and try out that Leopard he’s heard so much about, especially when he can justify it by the fact that HE CAN ALSO RUN WINDOWS ON THE VERY SAME MACHINE!!!!!!!! Get it? Boot Camp works on this baby of course. Run Leopard-lite on the Mac Nano out in the field, Windows back in the office, and Leopard at home, with Windows there when needed.

    It gets even cooler. Leopard lite can continue running on the Mac Nano’s touchscreen even while docked and running Leopard full. Prop the Mac Nano in its dock next to your Cinema Display and flick thru CoverFlow or check email while working in PowerPoint or whatever on your big screen. A slight speed ding? Yes, but very slight. The Leopard lite overhead is small.

    This will be a triumph of Apple engineering, design and software unlike anything the world has seen, including the iPhone. Apple will again create a whole new market and stick a giant (or nano-sized) foot into the enterprise door.

  12. whoever says:

    or apple could just F**K off !!

    Boycott apple, so many of us already do.

    The iphone is nothing special. it’s just for those of us who were around when the Game Boy came out.

    My Nokia can do everything the iphone can except flip pictures or resize via touch. whoop-dee-doo

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