Accelerometer market is set to rock and roll

28 May 2009

Motion-sensitive accelerometers that are currently used in devices such as the Apple iPhone and the Nintendo Wii are set to become one of the biggest selling components in the electronics industry by 2013.

When you turn your iPhone to the side and the screen automatically adjusts from portrait to landscape view, there’s an accelerometer at work. When you swing your Wii controller and bowl a virtual strike, there’s also an accelerometer at work.

Indeed, accelerometers in recent years have emerged as a critical input device for some of the world’s hottest electronic products, causing shipments to boom. This will make accelerometers the top-selling Microelectromechanical System (MEMS) device by 2013, according to iSuppli Corp.

The global MEMS accelerometer market will expand to US$1.7bn in 2013, up from US$947.7m in 2007.

“Due to this rapid sales growth, accelerometers by 2013 will displace the current leading MEMS products — inkjet heads and Digital Light Processing (DLP) chips — to become the dominant type of MEMS device sold worldwide in 2013,” said Jérémie Bouchaud, principal analyst, MEMS, for iSuppli.

“Consumers’ desire for motion-sensing in smartphones and video-game systems will boost demand for accelerometers.”

The boom in accelerometer demand will come as a boon to the health of the overall MEMS market. Although global MEMS revenue will decline by 8pc in 2009 — the second decline in market history following a 7pc decrease in 2008 — accelerometers will still manage 1.8pc growth.

Accelerometer revenue will rise by 14.1pc in 2010 and will maintain double-digit growth in 2011 and 2012.

“A major catalyst for the rise in accelerometer sales is pricing,” Bouchaud noted.

“Accelerometers broke the magic US$1 barrier in 2008, making them attractive in a larger number of products. Their prices will continue to decline in the coming years, widening their appeal beyond smartphones to reach the wider mobile handset market.”

In 2009, revenue from consumer and mobile applications for accelerometers is expected to exceed that of automotive applications. Until now, automotive has been the biggest application by far for accelerometers, but this area is now suffering from the global collapse of car production.

Automotive applications accounted for 40pc of global accelerometer revenue in 2008, down from 78pc in 2006. In contrast, consumer electronics and wireless accelerometer revenue rose from 22pc to 58pc during the same period.

In 2006, the top 5 accelerometer suppliers — Freescale, Analog Devices, Bosch, VTI and Denso — almost exclusively served the automotive market. However, by the end of 2008, STMicroelectronics had taken the lead in accelerometers based on its significant success in supplying the burgeoning consumer and wireless communications markets.

STMicroelectronics’ global accelerometer revenue rose to US$220m in 2008, up by nearly a factor of eight from US$29m in 2007. The company’s accelerometer market share rose to 20pc in 2008, up from 4pc in 2006.

By John Kennedy

Pictured: Apple’s iPod touch device makes use of its accelerometer in many applications and games