SAN FRANCISCO Thanks to the astonishing success of the Nintendo Wii and the Apple iPhone, many are wondering if the long-promised proliferation of motion sensors in cellular handsets and other consumer products is at hand. Not quite, say analysts.
While sensors based on microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) have declined rapidly in price, they remain too expensive to squeeze onto the bill-of-materials (BOM) of most mass-market consumer products, market watchers said.
"The Wii and iPhone have been really exceptional" and only a small percentage of consumer electronics products can achieve those platforms' level of success, said Marlene Bourne, president and principal analyst of Bourne Research LLC (Scottsdale, Ariz.). "The consumer market is a very finicky one."
In a report issued last November, ABI Research notes that MEMS accelerometer vendors such as Analog Devices Inc. (Norwood, Mass.) and STMicroelectronics NV (Geneva) cashed in on the success of the Wii and the iPhone. But "true mass-market traction" of the devices will only begin when individual unit prices fall below $1, ABI predicts.
ABI senior analyst Douglas McEuen forecasts that MEMS accelerometers will break the $1 barrier in 2010.
Bourne said unit prices on tri-axis accelerometers currently hover around $1.50 and are "pushing very hard" to cross the $1 threshold. "I do believe we are experiencing a slow integration of sensors into everything-with 'slow' being the operative word," she said.
While the Wii wasn't necessarily groundbreaking technologically, it was effective in introducing the concept of motion sensing into consumer products, said Ben Bajarin, consumer technology and digital media analyst with Creative Strategies Inc. (Campbell, Calif.).
"Nintendo did a great job of bringing the concept to market," Bajarin said. Because of the Wii's success, he said, consumers who are one day presented with set-top remotes that use sensors to navigate through free space will have a much easier time grasping the concept. "If someone says to them, 'It's like the Wii,' they'll be able to say, 'Oh, I get that.' "
Meanwhile, companies are hawking technologies that claim to get motion-sensing capability into cellular handsets and consumer products more cost-effectively. One such company is Sensor Platforms Inc. (SPI), which emerged Thursday (April 3) to tout its motion-sensing technology for incorporation into devices for free-space pointing, indoor navigation and vibration cancellation in hard drives.