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Image sensor market: Looking forward to better times

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Caren B. Les,

After a short downturn, the worldwide image sensor market, which consists of more than 11 billion devices with a market value of more than $7.5 billion, is expected to pick up steam by 2012 and to exhibit robust growth rates by 2014, according to a report from Pira International of Leatherhead, UK, which provides information and organizes events for a range of industries, including electronics, displays and lighting.

Published in May 2009, the report, titled The Future of Image Sensors, offers a quantitative view of market sizes and forecasts to 2014 based on primary and secondary research. It is designed for end users; business planners and analysts; manufacturers of image sensors and modules; and wafer and equipment suppliers, packagers and designers. Additional information on the company and the report can be found at

In 2008, the base year of the report, the total market for image sensors was $7.9 billion, but because of the downturn in the main areas of demand for the devices, the value is expected to fall to $6.3 billion. According to the company’s extrapolation, by 2015-16, the image sensor market likely will regain the total market value of the 2007-08 period.


The evolution of the image sensor market is shown in billions of dollars from 2000 through 2008 and projected from 2009 through 2016. Courtesy of Pira International Ltd.

The image sensor markets in the Asia-Pacific and North American regions probably will be the first to recover from the economic downturn, said Charles E. Spear, head of US publishing at IntertechPira in Portland, Maine. He added that he expected 2- to 5-megapixel sensors to continue to dominate the market through 2014.

Applications ahead

The market has been adversely affected by the sectors of its principal applications – computers, mobile communications and consumer markets – all of which have been hit hard by the economic slowdown. The image sensor manufacturing industry is experiencing a period of lower activity because the demand for many systems and components has fallen, according to the report.

The mobile communications sector will remain the most important application area for the devices, and the extent to which it thrives will have a great impact on the device business and on its supply chain, the report states.

The telecommunications and data communications industries could double in size over the next five years by tapping into new geographical markets. Competition for these application markets is expected to intensify once the downturn is over. Telecommunications and other sectors such as the consumer and automotive markets are likely to expand, but the pressure will be on device makers to keep prices lower. Continuing depression in the total market value is likely to continue in 2009.

Other applications areas expected to drive the growth of image sensors include security and surveillance, and vehicle driver aids, the latter of which will grow only when the car market picks up.

The demand for image sensors also may increase with the expansion of personal battery-operated equipment for the information and entertainment market, such as digital cameras, high-definition camcorders, game consoles, music and movie players, and two-way interactive entertainment; for example, the shift to more online capability in television sets may result in next-generation models with embedded cameras for Internet video telephony or interactive participation in games and discussions.

Another growing application area for image sensors is the military, which continues to develop smart technology as it increases its reliance on intelligence gathering. While emphasizing lower costs, the military is evolving fully automated vehicles and more accurate weapons based on high-performance devices.

Market expansion is key

Variations of existing devices will be launched over the next five years, and only those with the best combination of performance and pricing are expected to succeed. The report notes that companies can either promote products based on existing image sensors, such as cameras, camera phones and computer notebooks, or they can try to convince existing end users of the importance of replacing image sensor-based products with next-generation versions.

Expanding the market is the next challenge, according to the report. Companies will need to initiate a second generation of devices that will feature higher levels of sophistication and performance. A third generation of devices based on polymeric thin films or on nanoscale structures also could be developed. New companies may enter the market as a result of diversification.

The product’s position in its lifecycle and the competitive nature of the market can affect how it will perform in the market, according to the report; for example, it suggests that the market for CCD sensors is mature and that the number of units shipped may not recover as well in comparison with that of CMOS sensors.

By 2014, providers with the most competitive components and subsystems for the telecommunications industry are likely to be the most successful – but this prediction is a relatively uncertain one and is based on the timing of the introduction of next-generation personal telecommunications and multimedia systems.

Photonics Spectra
Jul 2009
That branch of science involved in the study and utilization of the motion, emissions and behaviors of currents of electrical energy flowing through gases, vacuums, semiconductors and conductors, not to be confused with electrics, which deals primarily with the conduction of large currents of electricity through metals.
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