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China tablet, cellphone makers doubled their MEMS sensor purchases

Posted: 03 Apr 2013 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:MEMS? motion sensors? China-based manufacturers? handsets? tablets?

"The heft and influence of Apple and Samsung in the consumption of motion sensors give the two titans incredible purchasing power in this key area," Bouchaud said. "Apple and Samsung were leagues ahead of other companies like Nokia, LG Electronics, HTC, Sony and Motorola in purchasing motion sensors. Both companies in 2012 paid 20 to 25 per cent lower prices than other buyers for all motion sensors on average. For 3-axis gyroscopes, Apple and Samsung paid prices that were 10 to 15 per cent less than for everyone else."

Apple and Samsung are expected to maintain their dominance until at least 2016, retaining approximately 55 per cent of the market by then.

Overall, revenue last year for MEMS motion sensors used in handsets and tablets amounted to $1.34 billion, up a solid 21 per cent from $1.11 billion in 2011.

California-based Apple was the biggest buyer of motion sensors for tablets, but fell behind top purchaser Samsung last year for the sensors in mobile handsets. Apple's share last year was down from 36 percent in 2011, but the company can claim important milestones in the MEMS motion sensor market.

The first iPhone made the accelerometer popular as the phone could automatically orient to a horizontal or vertical position; the iPhone 3GS launched an electronic compass for navigation; and the iPhone 4 along with the first iPad created a new market for motion-sensitive gyroscopes.

Unlike most manufacturers, Apple so far has a single-source policy for motion sensors. French-Italian entity STMicroelectronics has been the sole supplier to Apple of accelerometers since 2007 and of gyroscopes since 2010, while Japanese-based AKM has been the lone supplier of the e-compass since 2009.

STMicroelectronics is also the supplier of 3-axis gyroscopes for the iPhone 4, 4S and 5, as well as for the iPad 2, 3 and mini tablets.

Apple, however, may be facing stiff competition from other buyers in pioneering new motion sensor applications. Samsung, for instance, is driving the adoption of pressure sensors for sophisticated indoor navigation, while Nokia and HTC have already introduced optical image stabilization to reduce camera shake in smartphones.

Samsung's upstart challenge to Apple
Samsung overtook Nokia in 2011 to become the second-largest buyer of MEMS motion sensors for handsets and tablets. The South Korean behemoth increased purchasing by 69 per cent, boosting its market share to a quarter of the total from 19 per cent in 2011. Samsung?s new-found prominence puts it within 6 percentage points of Apple, narrowing Apple?s lead down from 15 per cent in 2011.

Unlike Apple, Samsung has a diversified supplier base: three for discrete accelerometers; four for e-compasses; two suppliers for discrete gyroscopes; two for pressure sensors; two for 6-axis inertial measurement units combining a 3-axis accelerometer and a 3-axis gyroscope; and one for 6-axis compasses comprising a 3-axis accelerometer and a 3-axis e-compass.

STMicroelectronics was the main supplier to Samsung as it was for Apple, with German maker Bosch Sensortec and California-based InvenSense as Samsung's next biggest providers.

Samsung's inclusion of pressure sensors in the latest Galaxy Note 2 and S III smartphones is also notable, giving the company an important head start in this segment, especially as Apple is not expected to include pressure sensors in the iPhone until 2014.

The top suppliers overall
Four suppliers shipped more than $100 million worth of MEMS motion sensors last year, making up 84 per cent of the market. STMicroelectronics was No. 1 with $640 million, followed by AKM with $236 million, Bosch Sensortec with $135 million and InvenSense with $121 million.

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