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The Devil's Advocate - The Future of iPod Is Solid State
by - January 20th, 2006

A friend of mine just came back from Hong Kong and was kind enough to buy me a slew of knick-knacks. What he brought back leads me to believe that Apple's future iPods may be moving to 16GB and 32GB solid state capacities.  Why you may ask?  Well, my friend brought back an 8GB thumb drive. What's unusual about it is that it's an extremely thin, single chip, 8GB thumb drive.  Here, check out the eye candy:

Sony Viao thumb drive & D-Link Bluetooth Adapter
(Click the thumbnail for a larger image)

You can see, it's a Sony Viao thumb drive that is about the same size as the tiny D-link bluetooth adapter; basically, it's not much bigger than the USB connector itself. The thumb drive, however, is basically half the thickness of the already tiny D-Link:

Side view of both devices
(Click the thumbnail for a larger image)

Here's the reason this Sony thumb drive is so thin:

Thumb drive's circuit board
(Click the thumbnail for a larger image)

You can see there's only one memory chip on board:

8GB of memory in one chip
(Click the thumbnail for a larger image)

And not much else controlling that memory: 

Controller chips
(Click the thumbnail for a larger image)

At first I thought my friend got taken for a ride, but as it turns out, it really does store 8GB worth of data all one one tiny chip. This is rather amazing because my 2GB SD card uses 2 memory chips; and it's pretty high density.  The iPod nano uses similar memory.  

So now you know where this is going.  The current nano is using 1GB capacity chips (i.e., 1/8th the capacity found on this thumb drive). Now that these higher capacity chips are available and shipping, it's a pretty reasonable bet there will be 16GB and 32 GB iPod nano's coming out.  All of which brings us to the question of "How long can hard drive based iPods survive?"

Ever since IBM dropped out of manufacturing hard drives, the rate of capacity increase for hard drive based memory has slowed to a pathetic crawl.  With IBM out of the picture, one wonders if it's more profitable for the drive manufacturers to tacitly agree amongst themselves to a more leisurely upgrade pace?  Regardless, where the drive manufacturers have slowed, the solid state memory producers have accelerated capacity increases.  So much so that it seems that solid state memory producers will now threaten the first significant market that has heretofore been dominated by the drive makers.

Right now, with a mere eight (8) 8GB chips, we can have 64GB solid state video iPods. It's likely that such an iPod would be thinner, lighter, use less power, and be more durable than its hard drive equivalent (not to mention you get 64 real gigabytes with the solid state memory and not the rounded down capacities the drive manufacturers give you).

For right now, the costs may be prohibitive.  But then again, Apple has the clout, the muscle and the volume to negotiate prices on the quantities it will need for next year. That likely means there are solid state iPods like this already in Apple's Wonka labs.  So if you have a lot of stock in hard drive companies, now may be the time to adjust your portfolio, because there is a pretty good chance that the entire iPod line will be based on solid state memory in about a year.

[Author's Addendum: A guest post notes that you can find 8GB USB thumb drives on eBay.  The vast majority of these seem to be fakes and will fail to operate after some time (apparently after a few hours). Although a few report their thumb drives to work (mine seems OK after a couple of weeks of regular use), the reader is asked to beware. Thanks to the commenting guest and his link to the eBay thread on the topic.]

is an attorney. Please don't hold that against him. This work does not necessarily reflect the views and/or opinions of The Mac Observer, any third parties, or even John for that matter. No assertions of fact are being made, but rather the reader is simply asked to consider the possibilities.

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