For the very first time, smartphones will account for a larger share of NAND flash memory usage than feature phones in 2013, according to the latest report by IHS iSuppli.

The report said that around 792 million flash memory units, including both NOR and NAND varieties, will be shipped for use in smartphones in 2013, compared to 703 million units in feature phones. This is compared to a total of 790 million units this year for feature phones and 613 million units for smartphones, as presented in the figure below.

This means that between 2012 and 2013, there will be a 29 percent growth in flash memory shipments for smartphones, versus an 11 percent decline for feature phones.

“Because feature phones this year will remain the largest segment of the global mobile handset market, they will continue to consume the largest amount of flash memory of any single type of phone,” said Ryan Chien, analyst for memory & storage at IHS. “However, a permanent reversal will ensue next year as smartphones overtake feature phones in total units and flash memory shipments. This illustrates the rising influence of smartphones within technology markets.”

Feature Phones Remain Relevant

The report also said that despite their anticipated loss of market leadership, feature phones would continue to make up a substantial portion of flash memory shipments in the years ahead, accounting for well over 500 million units each year through 2016.

Overall, flash memory densities continue to rise as bit costs erode and as feature phones grow in sophistication to meet the changing needs of consumers, especially in the emerging markets of the developing world where consumers are becoming increasingly mobile-centric.

High-density NOR remains common in feature phones because of its superior speed for code execution while NAND densities of 128 megabytes can now be found in mainstream feature handsets to handle applications and media storage.

According to the report, the continued high usage of flash memory in feature phones is due to various factors. For instance, superior cameras of 2 to 3 megapixels are now common in the handsets, with more than 400 million feature phones being shipped with such cameras this year. In addition, playing a factor is the increased utilization of feature phones as portable music players—a functionality that encourages higher storage densities.

A third driver is the penetration of wireless 3G into feature phones, facilitating more frequent usage of apps in the handsets.