Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Magnetic sensors in e-compasses find their way to huge growth in cell phones

EL SEGUNDO, USA: From the built-in electronic compass in Apple’s iPhone, to the turn-by-turn directions in Motorola’s Droid, consumers love the navigation functions in their cell phones, causing shipments of magnetic sensors for electronic compasses to boom in the coming years, according to iSuppli Corp.

Global shipments of magnetic sensors for electronic compasses in cell phones are set to rise by a factor of more than 60 from 2008 to 2013. Shipments will amount to 540.7 million units in 2013, up from just 8.7 million in 2008, as presented in the attached figure.

This year will generate particularly impressive growth, with shipments rising to 80.1 million units, up nearly 10 times from 8.7 million in 2008.

“Navigation is emerging as a must-have feature in smart phones and features phones,” said Richard Dixon, senior analyst, MEMS and sensors, for iSuppli.

“To provide heading functions for GPS-based navigation systems, an electronic compass using a 3-axis magnetometer is required. When combined with GPS positioning information, a 3-axis magnetometer can locate a user on an accurate digital map. This will generate huge opportunities for sellers of 3-axis magnetometers.”

Smart phones and other types of cellular handsets are rapidly emerging as the primary navigation platform, surpassing the Portable Navigation Device (PND), a product that has reached its peak popularity and now has entered a stage of stagnant growth.

Global shipments of all types of phones with GPS capability, including smart phones, features phones and other cellular handsets, are set to rise to 629.6 million units in 2013, up from 219.9 million in 2008. Penetration of 3-axis magnetometers for electronic compasses will rise in these phones as sophisticated navigation capabilities are added.

“Electronic compasses in cell phones are nothing new, with the first one employed in 2003 in a model from NEC,” Dixon said. “However, the market for electronic compasses and magnetometers now has entered a phase of fast growth due to two factors.

“For one, consumer interest has been piqued by the arrival of some high-visibility platforms, like the iPhone 3GS and phones using Google’s Android operating system. Second, 3-axis magnetometers have fallen to the $1 level, a magic price point that makes these parts affordable for mass-market cell phones.”

Japan’s AKM Semiconductor Inc. currently dominates the market for 3-axis magnetometers with its Hall effect sensor technology. However, iSuppli expects other companies to enter the market with magneto-resistive sensor technology, which offers higher sensitivity.

Higher sensitivity allows a user to point to a particular building and get an accurate heading—for example, making magneto-resistive sensors better able to support new applications related to Location Based Services (LBS).

One of these applications, the Layar Augmented Reality browser, displays real time digital information on top of the camera screen of a mobile phone, showing the user information like houses for sale, popular bars and shops, jobs, healthcare providers and ATMs.

Honeywell, Aichi Steel, Memsic and Sensitec are among the companies offering such magneto-resistive sensors, although in low volumes at present.

Noteworthy, electronic compasses also benefit shipments of MEMS accelerometers in cell phones. The 3-axis accelerometer compensates for tilt errors, sparking interest in so-called 6 Degrees Of Freedom (DOF)—3-axis magnetometer and 3-axis accelerometer modules that reduce space, price and power requirements.

These 6-DOF e-compass modules are already available on the Android platform, but they represent only a small portion of the shipment today. However, iSuppli notes that magnetometer suppliers recently have teamed up with accelerometer suppliers, and a series of 6-DOF module introduction is expected in 2010.Source: iSuppli, USA, Dec. 2009.

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