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Electronics Production | December 15, 2010

MEMS microphone technology benefits from iPhone4

Highlighted by their adoption in the iPhone 4, MEMS microphones are set to achieve a more than 50% increase in shipments in 2010 and a fourfold rise by 2014, according to market researcher iSuppli.
Global MEMS microphone shipments are set to expand to 695.6 million units this year, up 57.7% from 441 million in 2009. By 2014, shipments will rise to 1.7 billion units, four times the total for 2009.

“In a major milestone, Apple in 2010 employed MEMS microphones in the iPhone 4, the first time the company used the technology in the iPhone line. Although Apple previously used MEMS microphones in the fifth-generation iPod nano released in 2009, the company exclusively had been employing ECM technology in the iPhone line. With this move, Apple in 2010 will become the world’s second-largest buyer of MEMS microphones, behind Samsung Electronics. Apple was the sixth largest buyer in 2009”, said Jérémie Bouchaud, director and principal analyst, MEMS, for iSuppli.

The mobile handset market in 2010 is the largest consumer of MEMS microphones, ahead of notebook PCs. Headsets will form the third largest user of MEMS microphones, due to their use by Apple. By 2014, mobile handsets and notebook PCs will still be the largest application for MEMS microphones, followed by slate-type tablets, such as Apple’s iPad.

Since establishing the business in 2003, MEMS microphone pioneer Knowles Electronics has maintained market dominance, with the company set to account for more than 80% of shipments this year, the market researcher continues. The company has benefitted from its strong intellectual property portfolio.

However, competition is rising, with 3 of the world’s 5 largest MEMS microphone suppliers now being Asian suppliers of conventional ECM—AAC Acoustic Technologies Holdings, BSE and Hosiden. These companies buy MEMS die from Infineon Technologies, package them and sell them, using their existing channels. Analog Devices is the only other pure MEMS company in the Top 5.

An International Trade Commission ruling in November 2010 should make it easier for newcomers to compete with Knowles. A commission judge ruled that Knowles's silicon microphone patents were invalid.
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Note: MEMS microphones are tiny microphones that employ a pressure-sensitive diaphragm etched on a semiconductor using microelectromechanical technology. They are commonly employed in cell phones, headsets, notebook PCs and video cameras, replacing conventional electret condenser microphones (ECM).

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