Massive growth for MEMS sensors


MICROELECTROMECHANICAL system (MEMS) motion sensors are poised for double-digit growth in 2013, driven by smartphones and tablets.

Revenue this year for MEMS motion sensors will be US$1.5 billion, up 13 percent from US$1.3 billion in 2012, according to the an IHS iSuppli MEMS Special Report from information and analytics provider HIS.

The market was strong in 2012 and 2011, and the 2013 growth will slow, but still represents a strong rise compared to other electronic components.

According to IHS, after 2013, there will be two more years of double-digit increases before the market starts moderating in 2016.

By then, more than 6 billion motion sensors will ship in mobile handsets and tablets, up from just 1.6 billion units in 2011.

Besides the robustness of the smartphone and tablet market, MEMS motion sensor growth is also being driven by the boom of Chinese smartphone makers, the fast adoption rate of pressure sensors, and the trend towards adding a second gyroscope in the camera modules for optical image stabilisation.

Motion sensors became popular on the back of Apple’s integration into the iPhone for automatic screen rotation and other control functions. They are on-track to deliver next-generation, gesture-based menu navigation in the user interface of cellphones.

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.

Another new motion sensor is the dual-axis gyroscope, intended for optical image stabilisation in the camera module of handsets. This sensor will be 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, gyroscope-driven stabilisation will become a key feature in camera phones of more than 8 megapixels.

The market for combination sensors, where several sensor functions are integrated into a module, is also expanding rapidly.

In terms of revenue, approximately 16 percent of motion sensors were shipped as part of a combo sensor in 2012, up from just 3 percent in 2011, on the way to 53 percent by 2016.

Apple and Samsung were the biggest buyers in 2012 of motion sensors in handsets, accounting for 57 percent of consumption, up from just 25 percent in 2009.

On the supply side, STMicroelectronics led the field with a 48 percent share, followed by Japan’s AKM with 18 percent, German-based Bosch with 10 percent and InvenSense from California with 9 percent.