September 18, 2008

Smaller Sensors Making a Big Impact – Frost & Sullivan

Consumer electronic products are becoming smaller, sleeker and more powerful. From MP3 players to PDAs to ultra-small laptops to cell phones to gaming consoles, 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.

"To address this requirement, semiconductor sensors are becoming smaller in size and are consuming less space and power," says Frost & Sullivan Industry Analyst V. Sankaranarayanan. "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 into 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.

"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," V. Sankaranarayanan notes. "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, allowing users to perform altimeter readings and providing a weather forecasting capability. 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.

"The 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," says V. Sankaranarayanan. "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. This is expected to increase over the next 5 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.

The world semiconductor sensors market generated revenues of USD 3,917.4 million in 2007, registering a growth rate of 16.4 percent. 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.

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