NAND flash buyers should prepare for price stabilization heading into the second half of 2016. After contract prices dropped by 10 percent in the first quarter of 2016 due to oversupply, NAND flash prices are expected to stabilize in the second half as demand starts to pick up, according to TrendForce. The market research firm also forecasts tight supply for planar NAND and 3D NAND, starting in the third quarter.
At the “Compuforum 2016: The Future of Mobile Devices” conference held last month, Sean Yang, research director of TrendForce’s memory division DRAMeXchange, attributed the price stabilization to Apple increasing inventory for the next iPhone release and strong demand in the SSD market. He also noted steady demand from Chinese smartphone manufacturers due to new product model introductions.
As a result, Yang expects the global NAND Flash market to reach a balance in the third quarter, causing prices to stabilize. How the market shakes out in the fourth quarter will depend on sales of the next iPhone and other smartphone products. The reason: The iPhone consumed the largest share of NAND in 2015 at 15 percent, up from 14 percent in 2014, according to DRAMeXchange.
“Apple is expected to raise the maximum storage capacity of the next iPhone (also referred to as iPhone 7) to 256GB, so the first wave of related stock-up demand will likely give a huge boost to the NAND Flash market,” stated Yang in the release. “Additionally, falling prices of eMMC and eMCP encourage other smartphone brands to differentiate their products by upgrading storage specs.”
Another contributing factor to stable price tags is increased SSD adoption. DRAMeXchange expects the adoption rate in notebook PCs to surpass 50 percent by 2018 with growing demand in the enterprise market particularly in cloud computing services and data centers. Enterprise SSD shipments – led by Intel and Samsung – is expected to grow more than 30 percent in 2016, reaching 16 million units.
The market researcher reported that Intel started sampling 3D NAND enterprise SSDs to data center clients at the beginning of the second quarter. These products are scheduled for mass production in the second half of 2016. Yang also reported that Intel started to move 3D NAND equipment into its Dalian, China fab, which is expected to start trial production in the third quarter followed by mass production in the fourth quarter. Client sampling for Intel’s 3D XPoint is scheduled in the first half of 2017.
Yang expects Samsung to continue focusing on SSD products thanks to higher adoption in the notebook market and strong demand from data centers. DRAMeXchange forecasts Samsung’s bit shipment growth in 2016 to surpass the industry’s average as it expands its 3D NAND share in its product mix.
Buyers also can expect tight supply for planar (2D) NAND and 3D NAND. In the first quarter of 2016, suppliers cut their outputs for planar (2D) NAND as they shifted to 3D NAND production, said Yang.
“The supply of planar NAND is anticipated to noticeably tighten in this year’s third quarter as this architecture is still used for most channel products as well as for eMMCs and eMCPs. At the same time, the strong SSD demand may cause an overall shortage of 3D-NAND Flash as well. NAND Flash bit shipments in the third and fourth quarter of this year will see limited quarterly growths of 13% and 12%, respectively, based on DRAMeXchange’s estimation,” according to Yang.