A recent report by Tecmark shows that we use our smartphones to carry out a staggering 221 tasks every day. Given that a smartphone today doubles up as a camera, music player, ebook reader, television, fitness guide, restaurant locator, laptop, telephone (of course, how could we forget), and what not this is not really news. We have come to depend on our smartphones, (actually any gadget), to the extent that life without them seems unimaginable. This is good news for what I will loosely term the "devices industry". As value and dependency surge, so does demand, consequently driving sales and profitability.
But, with dependency comes expectation. Consumers are no longer satisfied with superficial bells and whistles, and are demanding more and more intelligence and seamlessness from their devices. Think about this - how often are users more disappointed with the loss of their data/contacts when they lose their phones than they are about the actual device itself? The answer gives us anecdotal insight into a strange shift of conversation. Consumers are - in a sense - demanding enterprise class capabilities on their gadgets. It is therefore not good enough for a device to be stylish - it has to deliver, anytime anywhere and across any platform and deliver easy and reliable sharing, retrieval and analysis of mostly personal but often business data and information.
"The storage industry is in a race to provide faster and better storage devices at affordable prices to protect and save precious data."
Ergo, enter storage: Needless to say, the internal memory capacity of the average smartphone is growing rapidly (smartphones such as the iPhone 6Plus now come with 128GB internal memory, compared to 8GB just two years ago. Today's entry level smartphones offer this much capacity). But even so, this rarely suffices. The increasing incidence of 4K content for example will soon make any internal storage full. Consider this. A one-minute video in 4K will use about 30-40GB in uncompressed format. The average music video is about four minutes long, and the average number of music videos on a phone is best left to the imagination. The math is mindboggling, and consequently, external storage becomes an imperative. The storage industry is in a race to provide faster and better storage devices at affordable prices to protect and save precious data. Most smartphones today have expandable memory options - and stupendous innovation in this area has today made available even a 200GB memory card.
Second, Enter Performance: How fast can we do what we want to with all that data that is in storage? Let us take the case of a professional photographer. Burst photography allows the photographer to take 15 to 20 simultaneous images - with slightly different positions and "moments" being captured in each. At the editing table, the photographer is then able to choose the moment he/she feels captures his subject best - and discard the irrelevant. But at the point the "bursts" are being taken, the camera needs to be able to shoot, process and store high-resolution images at millisecond speeds. Today a write speed of 90 MB/s clubbed with a transfer speed of up to 95 MB/s for post-production is possible with a 512GB memory card. Clearly storage married with processing speed delivers unparalleled value. Ergo, storage technology innovation (hitherto considered dull and boring) begins to play a front end role.
"Soon, we may be carrying an entire data centre in our hands, or even wearing one, storage innovation permitting."
The true shift to enterprise class capabilities on consumer devices is already being witnessed. Flash storage in the enterprise for example delivers up to 11X faster queries for industry-leading databases, up to 16X more virtual desktops and up to 50X improved performance for virtualised environments. Flash SSD storage system power and cooling consumption ranges from approximately 50-80% less than HDD systems. It is the same power of Flash that is being delivered on internal and external storage devices to consumers. In short, with Flash storage a smartphone or any device processes data faster, manages far more sources of data simultaneously - with high fidelity, and ensures relatively less heating of the device. It certainly helps too that the cost of Flash technology is rapidly declining.
So as we take more pictures, store more music, send more emails, use more apps, and depend more and more on our smartphones and their extended devices, both wearable or otherwise, innovation in Flash technologies at the increasing intersection of consumer and enterprise needs will define how consumers can continue to experience the true value that these devices promise such as seamless transfer of data across devices, platforms and operating system environment.
Tailpiece: Abut 10 years ago, 1TB of storage in the datacentre was news. Today we are already carrying half that on our devices. Soon, we may be carrying an entire data centre in our hands, or even wearing one, storage innovation permitting. It can therefore be argued that innovation in storage will eventually drive the success of innovation at the device and feature end of the spectrum.