Do tablets spell the death for HDDs?

New Update

BANGALORE, INDIA: With the introduction of the iPad and iPhone, media tablets and smartphones emerged and have grown to become prominent device categories. Although the India tablets market is still nascent, the market witnessed high-decibel launches by the world's leading vendors, aiming to tempt consumers with new offerings.


The rapid adoption of media tablets is substantively changing how consumers access, create and share content. With the increasing power and functionality of tablets, consumers and businesses are busy exploring the potential of these devices with activities that include surfing the web, sorting through photos and music, gaming, watching and editing videos, checking e-mail, as well as running education and business apps.

According to Gartner, more than 800 million media tablets will be shipped over the next four years(1), along with 3.5 billion smartphones(2) and 2 billion PCs(3). The reason this is possible is that none of the devices fundamentally replace the other, now or in the foreseeable future. Gartner says that media tablets will cannibalize about 10 per cent of mobile PC sales in the long term, with most of that erosion occurring in the already fading mini-notebook market(4).

Considering that terabytes (TB) of internal storage are now common on desktop computers, and the internal hard drive capacity of laptops is inching toward 1TB, tablet flash memory pales by comparison. It is only a matter of time before users clamor for more storage. There is just too much digital content to be stored and more HDDs may be required than in prior years to keep this growing content library.


Thus, although current economic circumstances might favor the growth of tablets, our need for storage will exceed and HDDs will continue to play an important role.

As per IDC, HDD demand from personal storage, entry-level storage, and enterprise applications is increasing. This reflects the broader trend to store more content in large datacenters and centralized storage devices in the home or in small businesses, thus making content accessible to a wide range of consumption platforms, including media tablets, smartphones, PCs, and other connected wireless devices.

The longer-term implication is that enterprise storage - as opposed to storage in PCs and CE devices - will at some point become the major consumer of HDDs, as it was early in the life of the HDD market(5).


While tablets at present are mostly considered a consumption device, the development of creation-based tablets to incorporate PC-like productivity capabilities likely would require more horsepower. This, then, would translate into the need for more expensive flash memory to be installed in tablets, raising their overall costs. Such a scenario would favor the HDD segment, especially if the price of flash memory drops and so-called hybrid drives come to prominence.

Thin hybrid hard drive (HHD) intended to serve as storage media for ultra-thin computers could help the HDD industry in its continuous battle against tablet devices, according to an IHS iSuppli. Two necessary features of HHDs are minimal thickness as well as performance comparable to solid-state drives so that to bring look and user experience of ultra-slim notebooks closer to that of media tablets.

Hybrid HDDs are basically hard disk drives containing a built-in layer of NAND flash memory that speeds up loading of frequently programs or speed up boot-time, wake up time and so on. Thinner hybrid HDD - those that measure 5mm in thickness are less expensive than pure solid state drives, and can serve in a larger market than just ultrabooks and SSD-based notebook PCs. For instance, thin hybrid HDDs can also be used in market segments such as the external hard disk drive sector, all-in-one desktop PCs, gaming platforms, and even tablet PC designs.


Hybrid HDDs have been on the market since Seagate Technology introduced its version in 2006. However, its benefits to users were not particularly evident, which is why it has so far failed to gain any significant popularity. With new ultrabooks next year expected to adopt the 5mm hybrid HDD as soon as the new storage media become available, more notebook PC manufacturers will initiate their own adoption of thin hybrid HDDs, IHS iSuppli believes.

Consumers will also reap significant improvements on their end, including a more efficient PC form factor, lower power consumption and greater cost-performance value. In the end, the topic of cannibalization is a moot point to Seagate, as we view all of these factors as a net positive for hard drive storage. We understand that media tablets and smartphones need to stream data, and this lends certainty that they will continue to fuel growth for the hard drive industry for years to come.

The author is country manager, India and SAARC, at Seagate.


1 Gartner, Media Tablets by Operating System, Worldwide, 2008-2015, 3Q11 Update, September 2011 (G00219441)

2 Gartner, Forecast Analysis: Mobile Phones and Consumer Electronics, Worldwide, 3Q11, October 2011 (G00225378)

3 Gartner, Forecast: PCs, All Countries, 2008-2015, 3Q11Update, xls file, September 2011 (G00217203)

4 Gartner, Connected Mobile Consumer Electronics Forecast WW 2008-2014, pg 1, July 2011 (G00214825)

5 IDC study, Worldwide Hard Disk Drive 2012-2016 Forecast: The Industry Hits the Reset Button (IDC #233547)

tech-news experts