At the MEMS Executive Congress Europe show in Germany, panelists debated the latest developments in the field, including new opportunities, falling average selling prices, and how long it will take for the Internet of Things market to mature.
A panel on MEMS (micro-electromechanical systems) components in consumer products held at the MEMS Executive Congress Europe in Munich this week discussed the growth opportunities but also outlined some of the clouds on the horizon that indicate profits for component vendors will require continued hard work and innovation.
The message seemed to be that, while the good times are here and should be enjoyed, the MEMS sector should not get seduced into believing its own hyperbole: Equipment opportunities and volumes are increasing, but average selling prices are under pressure. At the same time, multiple sensors are getting integrated into fewer packages, and some could start getting omitted from smartphones to minimize cost. Finally, while wearables is the hot market today but is not necessarily a long-lived one, the much bigger Internet of Things (IoT) market could take many years to mature.
The panel, moderated by Roland Helm, head of microphone and reliability at Infineon Technologies, started by asking panelist Jean-Christophe Eloy, president and CEO of market research firm Yole Developpement, to outline how many devices are in smartphones today and in the future.
Eloy actually enumerated the principal types at seven, although the number of MEMS sensors is likely to be higher. There are about seven types of sensor in most smartphones, he said: microphone, accelerometer, gyroscope, bulk acoustic wave (BAW), magnetometer, pressure, and humidity sensor.
However, Eloy then pointed out the strong trends in sensor fusion with acc/gyro/magento being packaged together as inertial measurement units, and pressure, humidity, and temperature being linked as an environmental unit.
"What's next is gas chemical sensors for the next mobile phone and IR imaging. IR is a very interesting development because it allows gesture and facial recognition and nightvision," said Eloy.
But within these categories some sensor counts are increasing. So microphones are going from one up to as many as five to help with noise cancellation and improved audio. At the same time, Eloy described the trend towards sensor hubs with local processing. "The sensor hub microcontroller is a coming trend. The calculation was all done on the apps processor. Now Bosch, ST, InvenSense have launched hubs," he told the audience.
Teemu Ramo, senior manager of audio hardware at Nokia Lumia, now part of Microsoft, agreed, saying that Nokia sees interest in "Kinect-style" gesture recognition and also in microphone arrays.