One-third of all mobile phones to use accelerometers

10 Jul 2009

By next year, one in every three new mobile phones on the marketplace will be carrying accelerometers thanks to the smart phone revolution spurred by the Apple iPhone and Palm Pre.

“By next year, one out of three mobile phones shipped worldwide will include an accelerometer, up from one out of five in 2009, and one out of 11 in 2008,” observed Jérémie Bouchaud, director and principal analyst, Microelectromechanical Systems (MEMS) for iSuppli.

“While few consumers know what accelerometers are, they do know that when they turn their iPhones to the side, their screens automatically adjust from portrait to landscape view, or that when they shake their handsets they can roll a pair of virtual dice in a game of chance.

“With their capability to detect and measure motion, accelerometers are the critical enablers of these features, which are an essential element of what makes these smart phones so popular. These capabilities now are spreading beyond smart phones to other types of handsets.”

Beyond game play and screen orientation, the most popular uses for 3-axis MEMS accelerometer motion sensors in phones include power management and shake modes for control of tracks in music phones, context awareness and pedometers.

iSuppli’s teardown analysis of the iPhone 3G S revealed the use of a 3-axis MEMS accelerometer from STMicroelectronics. Beyond the features mentioned above, the STMicroelectronics part works with the new iPhone’s digital compass to orient maps to whatever direction a user is facing.

In the teardown of the Palm Pre, iSuppli identified a Kionix Inc. MEMS accelerometer and inclinometer.

Looking specifically at the top mobile-phone OEMs, 38pc of new Nokia handsets platforms have integrated motion-sensing accelerometers since January. Sony Ericsson had the highest penetration of accelerometers, with 18 out of 19 new phones models introduced this year. Samsung and LG also are offering new phones with 3-axis accelerometers.

iSuppli annually tracks the features of more than 1,000 mobile phones from 32 manufacturers—accounting for 99pc of total cell phone shipments. Since January 1, of the several hundred phones already introduced, 18.3pc of the models integrated an accelerometer. iSuppli expects the penetration of accelerometers in new models to rise in the second half of 2009.

Partly because of the rapid rise in accelerometer adoption, as well as the use of other MEMS, the market for microelectromechanical sensors for mobile phones is expected to more than triple from 2008 to 2013. Global revenue from sales of MEMS for mobile phones will rise to $1.6 billion in 2013, up from $460.9 million in 2008.

Beyond accelerometers, other MEMS devices already used in mobile phones include microphones, BAW duplexers and filters, MEMS autofocus actuators, pressure sensors and even MEMS pico-projectors. MEMS gyroscopes will join the fray in early 2010.

By John Kennedy

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years