Smartphone/tablet motion sensor MEMS: What’s next?

September 8, 2011 — Consumers have been "hooked" on motion sensing ever since the iPhone came out with a display that automatically switched orientation with the consumer’s movement, says Jérémie Bouchaud, director and principal analyst for MEMS and sensors at IHS. User experience, as well as better gaming and navigation, has made motion sensing a standard feature on smartphones and tablets. This is driving a sales boom for MEMS sensors, Bouchaud noted.

Apple Inc.’s accelerometer adoption in iPhones and iPads has ramped the motion sensor device market for smartphones and tablets, which will nearly double during the next five years, according to IHS iSuppli’s MEMS & Sensors Special Report. Motion sensor technology encompasses microelectromechanical system (MEMS) accelerometers, MEMS gyroscopes, electronic compasses (3-axis magnetometers), and MEMS pressure sensors.

Global revenue from motion sensor technology in smartphones and tablets will expand to $2.1 billion in 2015, up from $1.1 billion in 2011.

Apple kicked off the market for motion sensors in smartphones in 2007 with the introduction of the accelerometer-equipped iPhone. The company further boosted the smartphone motion sensor market in 2010 with the addition of a compass and a 3-axis gyroscope to the iPhone 4 line. That same year, Apple introduced the iPad, using the same motion sensor devices.

Global smartphone shipments will hit 1.03 billion units in 2015, up from 294 million in 2010. Tablet shipments will be 275.3 million units in 2015, up from 17.4 million in 2010. A total of 4 billion motion sensors will ship in smartphones and media tablets in 2015, up nearly fivefold from 864 million in 2010.

Motion-based applications are becoming more elaborate:
The fusion of signals of the various sensors is enabling the much smoother, faster and more precise description of motion. This precision is suited to new applications, including augmented reality, gaming and motion-based web browsing.

Ultimately, signals from motion sensors will be fused with data from other sensors in smartphones and tablets, such as light sensors, cameras, microphones and global positioning systems. When combined with other sources of information, such as calendars, weather forecasts and traffic information, this sensor information can enable "context awareness," allowing handsets and tablets to determine automatically the context of how and where smartphones and tablets are being utilized. This will enable electronic devices to anticipate users’ needs.

Accelerometers and compasses already are nearly ubiquitous in smartphones, with 95 percent and 96 percent penetration, respectively, in 2011. Penetration also is increasing in feature phones.

In 2011, IHS estimates that 29% of smartphones will include a gyroscope, up from 13% in 2011.

Pressure sensors are emerging in the second half of 2011 and will experience growing demand in high-end smartphones starting in 2013 for use in indoor navigation applications.

In the media tablet space, the combination of accelerometers, gyroscopes and compasses is standard in 2011. Pressure sensors already have appeared in some tablets, notably the Motorola Xoom.

See IHS iSuppli’s report Motion Sensors in Handsets and Tablets: It’s all about Fusion:

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