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MEMS motion sensor market driven by smartphones, tablets

Posted: 18 Feb 2013 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:MEMS? motion sensor market? smartphone? tablets?

According to the latest data from IHS, revenue this year for MEMS motion sensors used in cell phones and tablets will amount to $1.5 billion, up by 13 per cent from $1.3 billion last year. While this will be down from the robust 21 per cent increase in 2012 and the phenomenal 85 per cent boom in 2011, it still represents a strong rise compared to the tepid growth expected for most electronic components during 2013, added the market research firm.

After 2013, there will be two more years of double-digit increases before the market starts moderating in 2016 with $2.21 billion. By then, more than six billion motion sensors will ship in mobile handsets and tablets, up from just 1.6 billion units in 2011.

"The growth of MEMS motions sensors in wireless devices is being driven by four key factors: the robust sales of smartphones and tablets; the boom of Chinese smartphone makers; the fast adoption rate of pressure sensors; and the addition in some cases of a second gyroscope in the camera modules for optical image stabilisation," said Jrmie Bouchaud, director and senior principal analyst for MEMS and sensors at IHS.

Earlier forecasts showing the market would slow by 2014 will no longer be true given new vigor in the industry because of these four variables, IHS noted.

First initiated by Apple in its iPhone for auto screen rotation, motion sensors have grown to become one of the most dynamic segments in the overall MEMS market, paving the way for next-generation, gesture-based menu navigation in the user interface of cell phones.

While accelerometers and electronic compasses are already standard in smartphones, other MEMS devices are also gaining heavy traction. Pressure sensors that can help with indoor navigation came to greater prominence in 2012 as Samsung adopted the MEMS device in high-end smartphones more aggressively than expected. After Samsung, Sony and other smaller handset manufacturers, such as Xiaomi from China, also started equipping smartphones with pressure sensors.

A new motion sensor likewise is making headway this year in the form of dual-axis gyroscopes, intended for optical image stabilisation (OIS) in the camera module of handsets. The new sensor is in addition to the 3-axis gyroscope already found on the main PCBs of handsets. As the camera function increasingly becomes a key differentiator in mid- and high-end smartphones, OIS will become a key feature in camera phones of more than 8MP.

Also helping spur the motion sensor market in 2012 was a dramatic surge in the number of legitimate, officially sanctioned smartphones in Chinaas opposed to the hordes of illegal, grey-market handsets still widely proliferating in that country.

The number of authorised smartphones produced by Chinese handset OEMs exceeded 150 million units last year, up from 67 million in 2011. The Chinese-made handsets now all feature at least one accelerometer, with compasses and gyroscopes expected to be integrated later. Smartphone shipments from Chinese OEMs will continue to climb in the next few years, further stoking the MEMS motion sensor market for handsets.

Combo sensors geared for growth
While discrete MEMS motion sensor devices such as accelerometers, gyroscopes and electronic compasses continue to be the major revenue earners, the combo sensor marketin which several sensors are integrated into a moduleis also expanding rapidly.

In terms of revenue, about 16 per cent of motion sensors were shipped as part of a combo sensor in 2012, up from just three per cent in 2011, on the way to 53 per cent by 2016. Six-axis inertial measurements units (IMU) comprising a 3-axis accelerometer and a 3-axis gyroscope in the same package will be the most popular combo sensor, ahead of 6-axis compasses and 9-axis IMUs.

Apple, Samsung lead sensor market
Apple and Samsung were the biggest buyers in 2012 of motion sensors in handsets, accounting for 57 per cent of consumption, up from just 25 per cent in 2009. The American and South Korean giants have now surpassed Nokia as the top purchasers. Also rising to become a major force is the group of Chinese OEMs including Huawei, ZTE, Lenovo and Coolpad, along with a number of other smaller China-based players.

On the supply side, four suppliers claimed 84 per cent of total motion sensor revenue last year. STMicroelectronics led the field with a 48 per cent share, followed by Japan's AKM with 18 per cent, German-based Bosch with 10 per cent and InvenSense from California with nine per cent.

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