Expanding market for miniature sensors

Paul Boughton
Consumer electronic products are becoming smaller and more powerful. From MP3 players to PDAs and ultra-small laptops, today's consumers increasingly define themselves by the kind of portable electronic devices they use.

Manufacturers of these devices are constantly looking for ways to reduce their size, cost, and power consumption, while incorporating larger displays and additional features that attract consumers. The power and space consumed by the sensor on the circuit board are therefore at a premium.

Frost & Sullivan Industry analyst V Sankaranarayanan comments: "To address this requirement, semiconductor sensors are becoming smaller in size and are consuming less space and power. At the same time, they are also becoming more powerful and indispensable."

MEMS accelerometers, for instance, have a significant advantage in terms of technology and performance, as they can be used for user interface, power management, navigation and pointing. These sensors have also penetrated the gaming industry, where accelerometers allow mobile and game users to make very small movements that are then reflected in accurate responses when scrolling, flying, driving, and executing other quick responses.

V Sankaranarayanan notes: "Hall ICs, MEMS accelerometers, MEMS pressure sensors, MEMS gyroscopes, MEMS microphones and IC temperature sensors are the important sensor types used in today's consumer electronic products. For instance, any cell phone that has a clamshell slide opening or a swivel opening that turns on as soon as the user flips it open or turns on as soon as the user slides it open, contains a Hall IC."

Accelerometers are being used to detect fall, tilt, motion, position, shock and vibration for numerous portable applications and functions, while pressure sensors are being included in next-generation phones, providing users with altimeter readings and weather forecasting. MEMS gyroscopes are finding applications for camcorder stabilisation, camera stabilisation, cell phone stabilisation, video games and navigation for small electronics.

IC temperature sensors are used in computers and laptops to maintain an appropriate environment for the proper functioning of the hardware, protecting it from being damaged.

V Sankaranarayanan states: "Automotive has been one of the major markets for these sensors to date, but research indicates that the demand from consumer electronic products is increasing rapidly. This is illustrated by the introduction of new and next-generation cell phones, laptops, cameras and video games, and the ever-increasing sensor content in them."

In 2007, cell phone sales across the world were 1.2 billion units. Sales are expected to increase over the next five years and this is where semiconductor sensors are expected to realise most of their growth. Apart from mobile phones, the demand for sensing is also increasing in devices such as MP3 players, PDAs, and ultra-small laptops.

According to new research from Frost & Sullivan, the world semiconductor sensors market generated revenues of $3917.4million in 2007, registering a growth rate of 16.4 per cent. This indicates that there is an exciting period of growth for semiconductor sensors, which are being integrated into an increasingly diverse array of applications in consumer electronic products.

Frost & Sullivan

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