American Technology Research analyst Shaw Wu believes Apple plans to deploy flash memory across its future products.
"In our recent analysis of the supply chain," Wu wrote, "We are picking up more extensive use of Nand flash technology in Apple's future product development plans."
Apple flash-based subnotebook
Among these future devices, Wu believes Apple plans to release a flash memory-based subnotebook, and intends launching an all-flash iPod range by 2008.
The analyst believes Apple will introduce its subnotebook in the second half of 2007, to exploit the current strong demand for MacBooks and MacBook Pros.
However, releasing the product in that time-frame will depend on how quickly flash memory vendors are able to drive down pricing, making the introduction "economically viable", Wu wrote.
Looking at price, Wu points out that 1GB of flash memory right now costs around $5, meaning 32GB of such storage costs $160.
That's a lot more expensive than conventional hard drives, which cost $22 in today's market. "Throughout 2007, flash in notebooks will likely be limited to the high-end/ultra-portable market," the analyst notes."
iPhone's OS X is set for use
Apple's iPhone pops up in Wu's analysis. He predicts that the new flash-based subnotebook will use a similarly stripped-down version of Mac OS X as that used to drive the Apple mobile.
He wrote: "The 'mini' Mac OS X will be used. In terms of software, our sources indicate that Apple is leaning towards using the same "mini" version of Mac OS X used in the upcoming iPhone.
"We believe this will be particularly important as it has a much smaller footprint and runs with as little as 4GB of space."
All flash iPods by 2008
There's been many well-reported rumours that claim Apple plans to migrate its entire iPod range to flash memory, dumping the existing hard drive-based architecture.
Such a move makes sense for a product range that's often castigated for reliability and durability. Flash offers several advantages over moving hard drive components: battery life is better; the products are more durable; they start up faster, and they can be designed into smaller form factors than is possible with coonventional hard drives.
Don't hold your breath — yet, the analyst warns, when he says: "Our sources indicate that while Apple plans to migrate the rest of its iPod product line to flash from hard drives (the current video iPod is the only hard drive model remaining), fairly low price points and customer appetite for high storage capacities will likely prevent this from happening until late 2007-2008."
No widescreen iPod — yet
iPod users who have been hoping for the imminent release of a widescreen video iPod that uses similar technologies to those promised in the not-yet available iPhone also face short-term disappointment, the analyst said.
"We are picking up that a widescreen video iPod won't likely ship until after iPhone ships in the June time-frame to not take away from iPhone's launch."
The analyst does expect new model iPods of the existing type, and says these will offer increased storage capacity, but he avoided specifying just how much.
In the meantime, we anticipate the current vPod to see storage capacity increases (there are currently 30GB and 80GB models).
Apple set for success, $115 target price
Citing Apple's key competitive advantages — a strong brand; excellent hardware, software and services; it's strategic use of proprietary technologies; and its expanding chain of retail stores — Wu chose to reiterate his 'buy' rating on the company's stock and placed a $115 target price on the shares.
"We see several additional catalysts in the quarters ahead, including Mac OS X Leopard, new movie and carrier partners, lower cost mobile phones, and further extension of its core technology franchise into new business areas."
Apple's actions are likely to generate success for its partners, too, a related report indicates.
American Technology Research analyst Doug Freedman warned that flash memory maker SanDisk may benefit from Apple's demand for flash.
"Apple is a key consumer of flash (memory), which SanDisk highlighted at its recent analyst event where it stated that a flash-based video iPod could potentially consume 10 percent of fourth-quarter flash (memory) capacity," Freedman told investors.