Mobile phones are driving big growth in the SD memory card market, according to Shuichi Ohki, Director of Panasonic AVC Networks Company, Media Business Unit. Digital still cameras remain important, and SD card slots in new GPS navigation devices, next generation game consoles and video cameras will also start to boost sales.
While phones account for roughly 35 percent of the 350 million memory cards sold today, Panasonic believes that percentage is expected to climb to 64 percent by 2010. By that stage, the annual global demand for memory cards is forecasted to top 500 million cards, according to Mr. Ohki.
Ohki said that almost all mobile phones from the three major Japanese mobile operators have SD card slots, and he pointed out that over 35 Nokia phone models currently take SD cards. Panasonic's best selling memory card is a 256 MB miniSD card that in Japan is used by mobile phone subscribers for music, games and satellite TV broadcasts.
To accommodate this growth in mobile phone applications, Panasonic's SD roadmap includes smaller-than-mini microSD cards and smartSD cards with integrated security and DRM features.
SD cards also play an important role in Panasonic's promotion of a "new digital photo culture" as the company seeks to integrate photo display capabilities with its AV technologies. The latest model Viera plasma and LCD TVs as well as Panasonic DVD recorders all feature SD slots to facilitate viewing photos in a digital AV network that is based around a big screen TV rather than a PC.
Moving memory cards more fully into home theatre environments has led Panasonic to recently introduce a 4GB SDHC (SD High Capacity) card designed to store high-quality images and HD movies. In Japan, Panasonic has already launched a digital video camera that records MPEG2 pictures directly onto this SDHC card, which can store the equivalent of three eight cm DVD discs. Ohki indicated that Panasonic will expand the high-performance range with 8GB, 16GB and 32GB SDHC cards by 2009.
Ohki set out Panasonic's view of the memory card market before international journalists gathered to tour its SD card factory in Yamagata, Japan. The plant, which turns out four million memory cards per month, is the world's second largest supplier of SD cards behind leader SanDisk.
Its highly automated production line is staffed by just six people. It currently takes two hours to churn out cards ready for shipment, but engineers at the factory have a goal of reducing that turnaround to less than one hour. In addition to producing 19 lines of mini and SD cards for the Panasonic brand, the Yamagata plant produces SD cards for more than 11 other companies through OEM agreements.
Pam Carroll travelled to Yamagata courtesy of Panasonic.