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Sony to double image sensors supply for new iPhone

Posted: 13 Feb 2014 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:image sensors? iPhone? CMOS?

Japanese publication Nikkei reported that Apple is negotiating with Sony to double its supply of image sensors for an iPhone that will be rolled out in 2015. This suggests that there is hope for the struggling electronics firm as it attempts to minimise its exposure in the thin-margin branded consumer goods and pivot towards components for mobile and imaging.

Just last week Sony announced that it would be selling its iconic Viao personal computer brand to Japan Industrial Partners Inc. and that it plans to operate its TV business as a subsidiary company from July 2014 (see Sony mulls selling Vaio PC unit). This is being interpreted widely as a preparation for that also to be sold off.

Sony has been identified as the supplier of the image sensor for the 8MP rear-mounted camera on the iPhone5s while the front facing "FaceTime" camera is said to come from Omnivision Technologies Inc. Apple could be looking to add Sony on the screen-side at Omnivision's expense.

The global CMOS image sensor market was worth about $7.8 billion in 2013 and will be worth about $8.7 billion in 2014, according to market research company Yole Developpement (Lyon, France). Yole reckons that Omnivision, Samsung and Sony will continue to lead in CMOS image sensors for handsets thanks to their advanced technology, large installed base and cost-optimised manufacturing set ups.

Sony's image sensor sales are expected to total about $3.5 billion in its current financial year, according to the Nikkei report.

An approach by Apple is thought to have had a bearing on Sony's deal to buy the Tsuruoka 300mm wafer fab from Renesas Electronics Corp. for about $73 million.

The deal is set to go through on March 31, 2014. Sony will continue to make system LSI chips there for Renesas under a legacy contract agreement for a limited period but Sony also plans to spend about $340 million to create the Sony Yamagata Technology Center.

The investment is part of Sony's long-term plan to increase its total image sensor production capacity for image sensors from the current 60,000 wafers per month to approximately 75,000 wafers per month. Sony Yamagata will primarily engage in the manufacture of photodiodes and wiring processes for stacked CMOS image sensors, the sort used in mobile phones and tablet computers.

- Peter Clarke
??EE Times

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