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MEMS in Smartphones: Growth At What Price?

It’s no surprise, the smartphone market is a high growth and potentially huge market.  In 2011 over 469 million units will ship worldwide.  This is an annual growth of 30.8% over 2010.  Semico Research projects that this market has a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 21.9% on units from 2011 to 2015, approaching 1.1 billion units by 2015.

It’s also no surprise that smartphone feature sets change over time.  What constituted a smartphone in 2003 is not at all the same as in 2011.  With each generation cell phones are becoming more feature rich, especially smartphones.

MEMS and sensors are important components that enable many of the new features on smartphones.  MEMS devices offer not only additional functionality but also smaller size and lower power consumption.  This makes MEMS very attractive to the smartphone market.  But what truly paves the way for MEMS in cell phones?    Is it just the new feature or new features at the right price point?

Will the cell phone market force MEMS devices to reduce margins or will manufacturers find ways to produce these chips more efficiently?

Prices for MEMS will erode as volumes increase.  CMOS image sensors is a perfect example of a feature that no one really needed but is on almost every phone because it was added at very little cost.  The CMOS image sensor share will decline but will still account for approximately one-third of this revenue in 2015.  Is MEMS headed down the same path?  Will margins erode?

In its most recent study, Semico has identified a dozen functions in a smartphone that either have a MEMS solution, or could potentially migrate to MEMS.  A significant trend this study points out is the development of the Inertial Motion Unit (IMU).  This incorporates several functions – accelerometer, gyroscope and digital compass.  The stand alone solutions are migrating to one package.  This can be a multi-die solution or monolithic.

MEMS and sensors for smartphones is a highly fragmented market with about 40 chip vendors involved in different areas.  MEMS and sensors functions in smartphones include CMOS image sensor, gyroscopes, accelerometers, magnetic field sensors (digital compass), autofocus actuators, pressure sensors (barometric sensors), micro mirrors, silicon microphones, oscillators and timing circuits, temperature sensors, micro-speakers, and RF MEMS – including FBAR, SAW, varactors, etc.

Lots of parts, lots of players…for now.

Tony Massimini, Chief Technology Officer

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