Larger Memories to Boost Smartphones

TORONTO — Consumers looking to store more 4K videos of their cats are in luck. Samsung Electronics recently began mass-producing one terabyte (TB) embedded Universal Flash Storage (eUFS) 2.1 for the latest and greatest mobile applications.In all seriousness, it will probably take a while for 1TB smartphones to hit the market, and it will be high-end models first, such as Samsung’s upcoming Galaxy S10. Instead, consumers will see the base model of most smartphones go up in capacity from 64GB to 128GB, said Gregory Wong, founder and principal analyst with Forward Insights.“There's probably not going to be huge volume at one terabyte. But with smartphones, the feature set being similar on the high-end, there's not a big gap between them in terms of differentiation or in terms of features,” Wong said. “Capacity or storage is one way they could differentiate.”Recommended
Samsung Claims First 512GB Embedded UFSThe introduction of 1TB flash for smartphones is in sync with the 3D NAND roadmap, said Wong. The question is whether the market will move there as consumers typically buy according to price point. The popular iPhone’s lowest available capacity is 64GB — a far cry from 1TB. “The vast majority are still going to look at the price of the phone before they decide,” Wong said. That being said, the iPhone’s lowest capacity used to be 32GB, he added. As NAND prices go down, smartphone makers can afford to add more storage and consumers will thus be moved up the capacity scale. The lowest capacity is now migrating to 128GB. “Manufacturers will try to move their lower-end phones up to the next step in capacity," Wong said. And capacity is the selling point for consumers — they’re not likely to care about specifications such as whether a phone is UFS 2.1 or 3.0. Wong added that they do want to be able to store stuff quickly and will take note of visible delays within apps such as photography which put a lot of pressure on capacity thanks to 360-degree photos and the ability to automatically take multiple shots. Dual cameras and the potential for triple-lens cameras are putting pressure on both processing power and storage capacity. Another driver for capacity is the advent of 5G, which enables users to ingest more data more quickly — but only if they’re willing to pay for a pricey data plan.
Samsung has opted to stick with UFS 2.1 for its 1TB smartphone flash storage as OEMs need to be ready to receive the UFS 3.0 standard.
Although Toshiba recently announced that it’s sampling what it says is the industry’s first UFS Ver. 3.0 embedded flash memory device, using its 96-layer BiCS FLASH 3D flash memory, Samsung has opted to stick with UFS 2.1, said Stephen Lum, senior product marketing manager for mobile and consumer memory at Samsung.Not only does high capacity flash need to be available, but also the right processor. In addition, OEMs need to be ready to receive the UFS 3.0 standard. “The device that's ready to be adopted is based on the 2.1 standard,” Lum said. Samsung is essentially squeezing more NAND in the same 11.5mm x 13.0mm package, doubling capacity by combining 16 stacked layers of their 512-gigabit (Gb) V-NAND flash memory and a proprietary controller.“We're stacking 16 NAND within that package along with a controller,” said Lum. "It's a fair amount of complexity in terms of manufacturing that device.”Samsung’s introduction of 1TB comes four years after introducing the first eUFS offering at 128GB eUFS. Lum said that users doing a lot of video capture can quickly fill up a smartphone, especially if they want to keep older files for viewing later. Today’s smartphones are even being used as the primary capture device for aspiring filmmakers.Other emerging apps that might require this level of capacity include virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR), he said, although right now it’s not clear what the apps look like for those applications. “But certainly, if you look at people capturing 360 video, that requires a substantial amount of storage space as well,” Lum said. There are also consumers that are using mobile devices for more than content consumption as an alternative to the laptop, added Lum, replacing as much as 90% of the traditional laptop functions and doing what was previously done on a larger device.“Storing a lot of documents consumes a lot of storage space as well,” Lum said. “The largest streaming smartphones are also an alternative to tablets. That's one of the reasons we've seen the tablet market grow slowly.”Although a primary target of Samsung’s 1TB eUFS is the smartphone, SSD-based laptops and tablets could also take advantage of these densities, said Lum, noting that ARM-based laptops running Windows are using UFS for storage today.—Gary Hilson is a general contributing editor with a focus on memory and flash technologies for EE Times.