When your iPhone's screen automatically reorients itself, it's using a nascent silicon technology expected to become a $1.7 billion market by 2013.
It's called an accelerometer--and the iPhone brought these devices into the mainstream.
"When you turn your iPhone to the side and the screen automatically adjusts from portrait to landscape view, there's an accelerometer at work. And when you swing your (Nintendo) Wii controller and bowl a virtual strike, there's an accelerometer at work there too," iSuppli noted in a report released Thursday. The market for these devices is expected to grow to $1.7 billion in 2013, up from $947.7 million in 2007, according to the market research firm.
Accelerometers are based on another burgeoning silicon field, Microelectromechanical Systems, or MEMS--also referred to as micromachines. MEMS are made up of components typically no larger than 100 micrometers in size and usually integrate a microprocessor and other components, such as the microsensor found in the iPhone's accelerometer.
Accelerometers in recent years have emerged as a popular input device for some of the world's hottest electronic products, causing shipments to boom, according to iSuppli. "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, iSuppli principal analyst for MEMS, in a statement.
"Consumers' desire for motion-sensing in smart phones and video game systems will boost demand for accelerometers," Bouchaud added.
A major catalyst for the rise in accelerometer sales is pricing, according to Bouchaud. Accelerometers broke the "magic" $1 barrier in 2008, making them attractive in a larger number of products, he said.
In 2009, revenue from consumer and mobile applications for accelerometers is expected to exceed that of automotive applications, iSuppli said. Until now, automotive has been the biggest application by far for accelerometers. Automotive applications accounted for 40 percent of global accelerometer revenue in 2008, down from 78 percent in 2006. In contrast, consumer electronics and wireless accelerometer revenue rose from 22 percent to 58 percent during the same period, iSuppli said.
And who are the players? By the end of 2008, STMicroelectronics had taken the lead in accelerometers based on its success in supplying the consumer and wireless communications markets. The other major suppliers are Freescale, Analog Devices, Bosch, VTI, and Denso.
STMicroelectronics' global accelerometer revenue rose to $220 million in 2008, up from $29 million in 2007, while the company's accelerometer market share rose to 20 percent in 2008, up from 4 percent in 2006, iSuppli said.