Electronics & Computers

Smartphone Motion Sensor Shipments Skyrocket

May 6, 2010

iSuppli research predicts that sensing device sales will rise fivefold by 2014 to support motion commands and navigation applications.

El Segundo, CA -- Global shipments of motion sensors for cell phones are expected to quintuple by 2014, as smartphones and their operating systems increasingly support motion command and navigation applications that require these parts, according to iSuppli Corp.

Shipments of cell phone motion sensors—accelerometers, compasses, gyroscopes, and pressure sensors—will rise to 2.2 billion units in 2014, up from 435.9 million in 2009. Revenue will amount to slightly more than $1 billion in 2014, up from $316 million in 2009.

Motion sensors such as accelerometers and compasses already play a key role in the functionality of smartphones like the iPhone or Google phones. Accelerometers detect when a phone with a large touch screen has been turned on its side, allowing the device to switch from portrait to landscape view. They also play a key role in gaming and navigation functions, and increasingly in augmented reality and context-awareness applications.

The expanding presence of accelerometers in cell phones also can be seen in the hundreds of independent design houses in China adopting motion sensors in 2009. Nearly 20% of the global shipments of accelerometers for cell phones went to China in 2009, iSuppli estimates, with the vast majority used in the Chinese gray handset market.

Accelerometers Speed Ahead
In 2014, accelerometers will account for 44% of total motion sensor revenue for cell phones. By that time, 65% of all phones will incorporate accelerometers, up from 2% in 2007 and 28% in 2009.

Falling prices for 3-axis parts will promote the growth of accelerometer sales. Prices for low-end, 6-bit 3-axis accelerometers are set to decline to 34 cents by 2014, down from 90 cents in 2008. The share of higher end 12- to 14-bit accelerometers will increase because these are essential for more sophisticated hand-gesture recognition and navigation applications.

Compasses Point Up
"Shipments of compasses for cell phones exploded in the second half of 2009," said Jeremie Bouchaud, Director and Principal Analyst, Microelectromechanical Systems (MEMS) for iSuppli. "In 2009, 19% of GPS phones used a compass, up from 4% in 2008."

Compasses support navigation, enabling auto rotation of maps to match the direction a user is facing. Augmented-reality applications that combine the compass, GPS signal, and camera are also a big driver in Android phones and in the iPhone 3Gs.

"These attributes are so compelling to consumers that competing smartphone platforms, including Google's Android and Microsoft's Mobile Windows 7, are promoting or even mandating support for these features. This will cause shipments of compasses for mobile phones to boom during the coming years."

Gyroscopes Spin Up
Mobile handset makers showed little interest in gyroscopes until early 2009. That changed, however, in mid 2009, following the success of the Nintendo Wii Motion Plus and the advent of a cascade of new gyroscopes with 2 and 3 axes from InvenSense and STMicroelectronics.

Gyroscopes are expected to enter the first smartphones this summer. The main applications in 2010 and 2011 will comprise a user interface using a gyroscope in combination with an accelerometer, followed by image stabilization and dead-reckoning for in-vehicle navigation. From 2012, gyroscopes will start to be used for in-door navigation in combination with an accelerometer, compass, and pressure sensor for floor accuracy. By 2014, the market for gyroscopes in cell phones is expected to amount to $190 million.

Semi Opportunity
With the anticipated upsurge of motion sensor shipments in the years to come, additional opportunities along the supply chain will be created for semiconductor companies, affording participation to the manufacturers of processors, microcontrollers, and navigation chipsets, iSuppli believes. At present, new architectures are being explored that can offload the application processor, optimize power consumption at the system level, and improve response time.

To learn more about this topic, see iSuppli's latest report, entitled "We Like to Move It, Move It".

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