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Demand Soars for CMOS Image Sensors

Strong demand from manufacturers of smartphones, media tablets, and automotive systems will drive the image sensor market to nearly $11 billion by 2016.
New camera-equipped portable equipment, including touchscreen smart phones and media tablets, will drive demand for CMOS image sensors through 2016, according to researcher IC Insights.

Image sensor sales will grow 8 percent to a record $6.3 billion compared to $5.8 billion in 2011, IC Insights reported. Growth will continue through 2016 when the image sensor market reaches $10.8 billion. Besides smart phones and tablet computers, digital imaging applications embedded in automobiles, medical equipment, security networks, and other vision-recognition systems will also drive image sensor growth, according to IC Insights.

While camera-equipped cell phones are the largest CMOS image sensor application, automotive systems are the fastest growing application with sales to that segment expected to reach $1.8 billion in 2016, IC Insights noted.

Rising demand means semiconductor companies will be adding more capacity for image sensors. Samsung, Sony, Toshiba are all boosting capacity for image sensors built on 300 mm wafers, which is putting pressure on fabless chip companies such as OmniVision and Aptina Imaging to also use 300 mm foundry capacity, the researcher said. Integrated device manufacturer STMicroelectronics is also feeling the pressure to move to 300 mm wafers for image sensor production.

The transition to 300 mm production is good news for buyers because it will increase overall capacity and allow for price reductions over the next several years. “Average selling prices for image sensors overall, including CCDs and CMOS devices, are expected to fall at an annual average rate of 2 percent in the next five years,” said Rob Lineback, senior research market analyst for IC Insights. However, the average price of CMOS image sensors will drop 4 percent in 2012 after surging by 15 percent in 2011, said Lineback.

The increase last year was “primarily due to stronger demand for higher resolution devices that are making their way into more smartphones, and the beginning of growth in some new embedded camera applications, such as medical imaging systems and rearview cameras as options in more vehicles,” Lineback said.

He added that prices will fall another 4 percent in 2013 before easing back in 2014-15.