An essential tool for every digital image-maker, the memory card has long since been a staple for photographers dealers, but how is the memory sector looking? What’s new and what’s on the horizon? Hungry Eye investigates
Since the advent of digital cameras in the consumer space, there’s been a need for digital memory products. Seeing sales of film (practically) drop off a cliff in and around the first half of the 2000s’ when digital cameras first exceeded the sales of analogue cameras, the market found itself in an unusual, yet equally exciting time.
Digital camera technology developed at an alarming rate; to a point where even the professional user could no longer ignore the convenience and speeds that images could be manipulated, transferred to clients, published and paid for.
We now find ourselves in a place where digital imaging technology has been largely adopted by mobile devices (along with the evolution of smartphones and mobile versions of image manipulation software/apps) to offer the most convenient snapping experience for the masses.
Right now, imaging card sales are dominated by Sandisk in the UK at Almost 40% (as they are in most countries worldwide). Beyond Sandisk, Lexar are #2 and have, for a long time, played a particularly strong role in the UK market, and PNY is #3. Samsung has been seen as a price aggressive competitor in the past year and has been gaining market share in the UK and across Europe.
So where does the current climate leave the memory market? The digital imaging technology is so utterly engrained in society and memory products have long since been a commodity ‘partner’ product for retail. Lower to mid range capacity devices now exchange hands for very little money if compared to just a few years ago, so where are the opportunities, what is on the horizon and what’s the state of play with the brands?
It seems that the biggest steps in the technology have been those transferring from the pro-video market as the popularity of filmmaking with ‘traditional’ cameras has taken off. DSLRs and CSC cameras continue to break ground in this space since Canon’s 5DII broke the mould back in 2008 – the first to offer a video recording function.
It was no accident that the functions became more widespread around the same time that web platforms such as YouTube and Vimeo were becoming extensive and stable. Suddenly everyone could be a filmmaker and publish their work themselves. Since then, video function, and more recently 4K video, has opened up opportunities for the retail channel with the necessity for higher speeds and capacities required for anyone looking to shoot this kind of content. The safe storage and transfer of these (huge) files has given birth to a demand of more pro-end solutions in the consumer space and of course, these carry a higher price point than your average SD card. For example, anyone with an Apple® iPhone® 6s can capture 4k video, and just 30 minutes of footage will take up to 11GB of space. Professional videographers capturing 4K resolution video at 60fps are creating 400MB per second, or 1.4 terabytes per hour of raw footage, and will often back-up their footage in multiple places for safety. This doesn’t even take into account post-production, or transferring content on to clients etc.
Case in point, with these higher end products, are some of the solutions on offer from G-Technology, who have increased the capacity and improved performance of their G-RAID, G-DRIVE and G-SPEED families of hard drives; increasing the capacities to between 8TB and 10TB?
Mike Williams, vice president of G-Technology told Hungry Eye: “By 2020, industry experts predict that the media and entertainment industry’s storage requirements will grow by nearly five times and that the average consumer will need an enormous 5.2TB of storage. G-Technology is dedicated to providing reliable, fast, stylish and easy-to-use storage solutions that fit the current and future needs of professionals and consumers alike.”
That’s huge growth and food for thought when it comes to thinking about what to stock in the coming months and years.
Movements and mergers in the market
G-Technology is a wholly owned brand of the memory monolith, Western Digital Technologies, Inc., a subsidiary of the Western Digital Corporation and earlier this year, they announced that they had acquired the significant consumer and pro-memory brand, SanDisk.
Steve Milligan, Chief Executive Officer of Western Digital stated: “This is a significant point in the history of Western Digital. We are delighted to welcome SanDisk into the Western Digital family. This transformational combination creates a media-agnostic leader in storage technology with a robust portfolio of products and solutions that will address a wide range of applications in almost all of the world’s computing and mobile devices. We are excited to now begin focusing on the many opportunities before us, from leading innovation to bringing the best of what we can offer as a combined company to our customers. In addition, we will begin the work to fully realise the value of this combination through executing on our synergies and generating significant cash flow, as well as rapidly deleveraging our balance sheet and creating significant long-term value for our shareholders.”
It’s certainly a significant step and one that raises the stakes for their competition. Steve Milligan has continued to serve in the position of CEO (of Western Digital), whilst Sanjay Mehrotra, Co-founder, President and CEO of SanDisk, is now serving as a member of the Western Digital Board of Directors.
Sanjay told us that: “As a combined company, we will be best positioned to address the demands for data storage, which is growing exponentially every year. Growth and change go hand in hand, and we at SanDisk couldn’t be happier to grow and change together with Western Digital. I look forward to contributing to realising the potential of this combination as a member of the board.”
With this being so fresh, we are yet to see if there are to be any ramifications feeding through to the retail sector, although one could speculate that the potential of shared R&D, manufacture and general overheads could mean that costs come down and margins rise!
Other recent launches
Notable launches in recent months include Toshiba’s new range of ultra-high-performance EXCERIA PRO™ UHS-II microSD cards. These were announced around the time of the Photography Show and came at the same time as the announcements of extensions to the company’s high-end EXCERIA PRO SD and EXCERIA™ microSD and SD card line-up.
The new microSD and SD cards promise to support the high-performance requirements of professional and advanced amateur photographers and are also suggested for use by action sports enthusiasts, capturing live fast-action photos or videos at read/write speeds of 270MB/s and 250MB/s across the board. This gives the new cards the accolade of the world’s highest write speed microSD memory cards.
These new UHS-II-compliant microSD cards are available in multiple storage sizes up to 64GB. Storage capacity options for the new UHS-I-compliant EXCERIA and EXCERIA PRO microSD and SD cards are 16GB, 32GB, 64GB and the monster, 128GB.
View from the retailer
We spoke with Chris Everett, Assistant Manager at Wilkinson Cameras, Liverpool on the subject of memory and he told us: “It’s a ‘must have’ product, not an after-sale and it’s paramount that we try not to let a customer leave the shop without a card that’s both suitable for the kind of activity they’re planning and is of a decent quality. I’ve seen so many horror stories coming through our store over the years, where people have bought cheap cards elsewhere; we’ve had to run data recovery services time and again, and often, it’s only then that people will realise the importance of getting the right advice and the right product in the first place.”
We asked Chris about the types of memory products that are selling well in-store currently: “I shoot both stills and video myself, so I’m in a good position to advise our customers on the most appropriate products for their work and we’re seeing more and more higher capacity cards going out of the door due to people shooting video and 4K. As a result, SSD (solid state drives) are becoming increasingly popular – they’re more reliable and both the capacities and speeds are generally high. That said, SanDisk’s CFast cards are really good and run at speeds from 515mb/s. That’s lightning-quick! Other cards I’d recommend would offer base speeds of 90mb/s as a minimum really, with 4K requiring a base rate of 280mb/s.”
“I still shoot film. 35mm primarily but will always back up digitally. I don’t consider any digital file ‘safe’ until it’s backed up at least three times” Chris Everett, Assistant Manager at Wilkinson Cameras, Liverpool
On the subject of security, Chris continued: “I still shoot film. 35mm primarily but will always back up digitally. I don’t consider any digital file ‘safe’ until it’s backed up at least three times; once in the cloud, once on SSD and the other on optical archive disc or similar. I learned my lessons a long time ago by using cheap, rubbish hard drives!”
What the analysts say
Hungry Eye caught up with Dominic Ashford, Senior Account Manager for IT at Gfk, who told us: “2016 has been a positive year so far for flash-based memory markets, with USB memory, Solid-State Drives and Memory Cards all growing. The Memory Cards market in particular has been buoyant, increasing in value and volume by 11%, comparing the second quarter of 2016 with the same period of 2015.
“The MicroSD format has been the main driver of growth in this market, with this segment growing by 23% Q2-on-Q2” Dominic Ashford, Senior Account Manager for IT at Gfk
“The MicroSD format has been the main driver of growth in this market, with this segment growing by 23% Q2-on-Q2. Higher capacities have been contributing significantly to this increase, with 64GB Micro SD cards comprising 10% more sales in the second quarter of 2016 when compared with the equivalent period of 2015. Similarly, sales of 128GB MicroSD cards now account for over 5% of the sales of this market, up from Q2 2015 when this capacity didn’t even account for 1% of MicroSD sales.
“This growth demonstrates the demand from consumers for higher amounts of storage for use with phones, tablets and cameras. The growth has come at the cost of price, however, with all MicroSD capacities seeing significant falls in average selling price.”
Conversely, Oana Pirtan, Information Analyst at market data analytics company, Futuresource, suggests a slightly different picture for the memory market: “In 2015 the UK sales of SD cards, used with digital cameras declined 8% to 7.6M units, while the trade value decreased by 11% to £62M. In 2016 we expect volumes to fall by 8% to 7.0M units. MicroSD, generally used with mobile devices, grew 6% to 16.9m units and continue to benefit from a growing base of smartphones and tablets with slots in the UK.
“We expect this declining trend for Imaging SD Cards to continue, driven mainly by the decline of overall UK digital camera sales, and corresponding population… While overall sales decline, the market is moving high-end as it caters to an increasingly enthusiast/professional population, which in turn, is driving demand for memory cards with higher capacity, speed etc.”
Oana continued: “The retail for Imaging Cards is mainly dominated by CE Specialists such as Currys (30%), followed by Camera specialists (25%) and Internet Specialists such as Amazon and Ebay (25% rate), with supermarkets, department stores and the likes of Argos representing much of the remaining share.”
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