Camera Module Market Forecast for 2013 and Beyond

In December, IC Insights published an interesting market forecast identifying various market trends for the upcoming three years. The primary insights were that machine vision, automotive, and medical applications will fuel growth in the industry in the near future. Here is a brief summary of their findings.

While digital still camera sales have been declining since 2007, the competition is gaining by leaps and bounds: camera phones that offer greater than 3MP sensors outsold digital still cameras by a 6:1 ratio in 2012. The industry’s attention has therefore shifted to new applications and embedded systems for photography. Enhanced machine vision for automotive safety and industrial equipment, video surveillance networks, medical imaging, and small camera modules for portable devices are all contributing to this new wave of industry development.

“The total market value for digital cameras and imaging systems is expected to grow from $55.5 billion in 2012 to $77.8 billion in 2016. IC Insights forecasts total shipments of digital cameras and embedded imaging systems will reach 6 billion units in 2016 compared to 2.5 billion in 2011, which represents a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 19.0% in the five-year period.” – IC Insights

camera module industry forecast

According to IC Insights, we will see sales of cameras in phones, tablets, computers, automobiles, and medical devices increase while stand-alone digital camera sales will significantly decrease over the next three years.

Not All Cameras Are Created Equal: Mini Tablet Cameras v. Apple Cameras

A bevy of seven-inch (or so) tablet computers have been the focus of a flurry of online gossip recently, including the Google Nexus 7, Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 7, and the rumored Kindle Fire 2 and Apple iPad Mini.

The Google Nexus 7 (credit: PC Advisor)

A low resolution 1.2 MP camera is included in the Google Nexus 7.

The questions on our minds, at Kasalis, are these: how are people going to use these small tablets?  And is there potential for better cameras to be a part of the design?  It appears that the answer to the latter question is yes.  For the rumored ones, of course, there are no camera specs available (although the new Kindle Fire is expected to include one).  However, we do know that the Google Nexus 7 includes a measly 1.2 MP, front-facing camera.  One would think that given the smaller, seven-inch tablet’s greater portability, customers might use it more frequently for photography than they would a larger, 10-inch tablet, if given the opportunity.  However, Google’s philosophy is apparently to sell its games and apps to buyers, not to sell the Nexus as an all-purpose device that can also be used for photography.

Going in the opposite direction from this apparent tendency toward low-end cameras among the small tablet computers, an Apple patent application was recently published for a device with a switchable camera module (AppleInsider).   It appears to be intended for an iPhone, so although this is a different market than the tablets, it is still pushing the bar higher in regard to cameras for portable electronics.  We at Kasalis tend to agree with this approach.

Apple Patent Illustration

The patent application, entitled “Back Panel for a Portable Electronic Device with Different Camera Lens Options,” notes that as the quality of digital images taken with highly compact devices increases, users seek even more sophisticated features.  The iPhone currently does not allow for replaceable or mountable lenses.  Apple’s solution is a portable device that features a removable back panel that would allow for customized lenses.

 

Apple Patent Illustration

Apple’s system would redesign the imaging module to include the infrared cut-off filter on the removable panel, which would allow photographers to remove it and capture black-and-white images at very low light levels.  The optical component could also feature a close-up lens, reducing the focal distance and allowing for very close-up photography.

We hope the industry continues to raise the bar in overall camera quality to push the boundaries of what we know and advance technology in camera modules.

Exponential Growth in Smartphone and Tablet Industry Fuels Need for High Quality Optical Components

Smartphones such as iPhone, Galaxy need camera modules

Advanced camera module assembly systems that use active alignment to produce superior focus quality should be used for smartphone camera modules.

 

Apple is the most valuable company on earth.  Its enormous success in the past five years is at least partly attributable to the speed at which the markets for Apple’s latest signature products, the iPhone and iPad, have grown.  Despite a recession, we have seen astounding growth of the smartphone and tablet computer markets over the past five years.

Although overall sales of mobile phones are slightly down (2%) as of May, smartphone sales are up.  Gartner estimated that smartphone sales for Q1 2012 hit 144 million globally and accounted for 34% of all mobile devices sold for the year (TechCrunch).  In all, IDC says that the smartphone market grew 42.5% year over year in the first quarter of 2012 and Samsung recently overtook Apple as the leader in smartphone sales.

Global sales of smartphones and tablet computers are expected to increase exponentially in coming years.  According to one forecast, over 1 billion smartphones will be sold worldwide in 2016 (Statista), and another predicts that over 1.5 billion will be sold in the same year (Business Insider).  Similarly, tablet computer sales are expected to more than triple by 2016 to reach nearly 400 million (TechCrunch).

What does all of this mean for us?  In terms of camera modules, smartphones and tablets increasingly have two – one facing each direction.  No matter which report you read, you will find a unanimous opinion that sales of these devices are on the rise, which leads to an increasing demand for sophisticated technologies.

A typical consumer will expect particularly high quality mobile camera performance at this stage of the game in smartphone development.  The camera has become a highly touted and frequently used feature of every smartphone – taking photos is ranked second behind texting by consumers as their most frequent use of smartphone technology (Mashable).

How consumers use their smartphones

Cameras ranked second on this survey of how consumers use smartphones.

The value of an excellent camera is evident in the recently announced the Nokia 808 PureView, which boasts a 41-megapixel camera, the highest resolution camera phone ever made; it is currently in pre-sale on Amazon, set for release on July 8th.  Since smartphones are the all-in-one device replacing the numerous technologies people rely upon daily (mobile phone, MP3 player, camera, GPS, and more), it is worthwhile for a consumer to purchase a high quality device and makers of smartphones must plan accordingly.

How does a smartphone manufacturer ensure that its cameras are of the highest standards and will garner consistently high marks from reviewers and consumers?  It employs an active alignment system to assemble its camera modules, achieving the most accurate focus across the image sensor by aligning the lens in up to six degrees of freedom.  Active alignment is a sophisticated solution that doesn’t have to cost more than a screw-in lens. Kasalis strives to price our systems so that per module costs are on par with traditional alignment methods, thereby pushing active alignment to be the new norm.  We believe that the swift adoption of smartphones and tablets will fuel a demand for higher quality camera modules, thus creating a new high standard in camera module performance.