by Elizabeth Millard, newsfactor.com (Yahoo.com)
Apple might begin selling notebook computers that use flash memory instead of hard-disk drives, an analyst has predicted, and the change could come before the end of the year.
Apple already uses flash memory in its music players, and several digital camera manufacturers also employ the technology. The memory uses less space, is lighter than a traditional hard drive, and also requires less power.
Although Apple would not confirm the accuracy of the rumors, American Technology Research analyst Shaw Wu noted in news reports that he believes Apple is working on creating smaller computers called "subnotebooks" that will be unveiled in the second half of 2007.
Wu was one of the first analysts to predict the launch of Apple's iPhone music player and phone, which caused a huge splash at its recent unveiling. The analyst cited unnamed industry sources for that report, and is keeping mum now on how he might have gotten the subnotebook information.
If Apple does pursue flash memory, it could put pressure on manufacturers of traditional disk drives, Wu noted. Some chip memory producers, such as Micron Technology, have stated in the past that a switch to flash could be inevitable because flash has several advantages and prices have been dropping recently.
In his prediction, Wu noted that price declines have made it an ideal time for flash memory makers to gain momentum in the laptop arena. Because flash memory does not have moving parts, they are less likely to be damaged than hard drives. This fact has saved many iPod owners from finding their music players kaput after they're dropped.
The small size of the memory also could spur innovation in creating smaller laptops. Flash is already used in small devices like cell phones and digital cameras, and laptops could undergo a similar miniaturization.
Even if the speculation surrounding Apple does not pan out in the near term, flash-based portable computers are likely to be the wave of the future, said Forrester Research analyst Ted Schadler. "The benefits to consumers are big," he noted. "Longer battery life, more flexibility in form factors, much more durable, smaller computers."
Apple is particularly well poised to create a flash-based laptop, he added: "With Apple's modular operating system built on open-source components, they are in a good position to build a flash-based notebook computer."
One drawback to such a system is that it would be more expensive than the types of laptops made now, but that higher price is also in line with Apple, Schadler said. Because of Apple's proprietary systems, Mac fans are used to paying more than they would for a PC.
"It's in line with Apple's strategy and premium customer base," Schadler said. "If Apple builds a flash-based computer, consumers will buy it."