1TB iPhone: Smartphone storage capacity zooms on increased demand

Ahead of the potential launch of a 1TB iPhone this year, storage capacity is quickly gaining traction as one of the more important criteria for which smartphone OEMs compete among themselves, especially in the premium Android segment. Better cameras, higher resolution displays and faster wireless connectivity have enhanced the ubiquity of high-resolution videos, boosting the demand for smartphone NAND memory.

Apple's flagship iPhone 12 Pro Max features the largest display ever on an iPhone, a pro camera system with the new sensor-shift OIS on the Wide camera and longer focal length Telephoto camera, a LiDAR Scanner, A14 Bionic, and much more.
Apple’s flagship iPhone 12 Pro Max features the largest display ever on an iPhone, a pro camera system with the new sensor-shift OIS on the Wide camera and longer focal length Telephoto camera, a LiDAR Scanner, A14 Bionic, 512GB storage capacity, and much more.

Brady Wang for Counterpoint:

The global smartphone industry is experiencing an increasing trend of adoption of larger NAND capacities. In 2020, smartphones crossed the 100GB mark for average NAND capacity. The high-end smartphones benefitted from the high-capacity and high-speed UFS NAND, whose prices reduced significantly in the past two years, according to our Component Price Tracker.

With their higher price point, iPhones have historically retained a much higher average NAND-flash density compared to their Android peers. However, this gap is quickly reducing due to (i) Apple’s decision to limit the iPhone 12 storage to 512GB and (ii) rapidly rising storage capacities in Android smartphones as per our historical data and forecast of smartphone memory for the 2018-2024 period.

NAND capacity ranking of smartphone OEM brands

Huawei led the average NAND flash content rankings in Q4 2020. As shown in the chart below, Huawei was closely followed by Apple and OPPO while Motorola and LG found themselves at the list’s bottom. Here, the top players shipped phones with average NAND capacities of over two times that of the players at the bottom of the list.

Smartphone storage capacity zooms on increased demand

Huawei’s average NAND density was much higher than any other Android OEM in Q4 2020, reflecting its focus on the high-end smartphone segment in the past few years to improve margins. In the 2019-2020 period, nearly half of Huawei’s and Apple’s smartphone shipments came from their 128GB and 64GB variants, respectively. In the same period, Huawei’s and Apple’s 128GB variants experienced a yearly growth in low-to-mid teens for shipments. In comparison, their 64GB variants saw nearly a double-digit and over 1% decline, respectively.

According to our Global Handset Model Sales Tracker, the Huawei P30, P30 Lite and P30 Pro collectively made up for nearly one-eighth of the company’s 2019-2020 shipments. From these, the 128GB variants accounted for roughly three-fourths of the sales. The company’s top 20 shipped model families made up over half of its sales. Out of these, the 128GB variants made up nearly 60% of the shipments.

On the other hand, the iPhone 11, iPhone XR and iPhone 11 Pro Max together accounted for nearly half of Apple’s shipments in the 2019-2020 period. Among these model families, the 64GB variants made up for over half of their sales. OPPO’s top five best-selling smartphones contributed to 30% of its 2019-2020 shipments. Among them, the 32GB, 64GB and 128GB variants took nearly one-third of the shipments each.

Smartphone shipments dominated by 128GB NAND

For smartphone NAND Flash, 128GB is becoming the minimum standard for storage capacities in the mid-end to high-end segment. According to our Smartphone NAND Flash Status Update for Q4 2020, over one-fifth of the sub-64GB smartphone market jumped to 128GB. A similar but smaller transition occurred from 64GB to 256GB-plus variants. As a result, the 64GB-plus market experienced dramatic growth driven by (i) rising consumer demand for high-resolution video content and games, and (ii) significant price drop in eMMC and UFS NAND flash in the past few years.

Falling prices of high-speed UFS/uMCP storage and the inclination of smartphone users towards more extensive storage capacities have gone hand in hand to raise the market share of 64GB-plus smartphones in 2019-2020.

MacDailyNews Take: Perhaps we’ll get our first 1TB iPhone this year.


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