Business | October 11, 2011
Electronic compass market finds its way to growth in 2011
With navigation features becoming standard in smartphones like Apple's iPhone as well as in tablets and gaming devices, the market for electronic compasses is set to close this year with sizable 73% growth, according to IHS iSuppli.
Global revenue for electronic compasses is expected to reach $419.1 million in 2011, up from last year’s $242.3 million. The hefty growth this year continues the explosive 186 percent surge seen by the market in 2010, with strong double-digit expansion assured for the next few years as well. By 2015, revenue is projected to amount to $842.2 million, an increase of more than threefold from 2010. “At their most basic, electronic compasses naturally complement navigation features found in the global positioning systems (GPS) of personal navigation devices,” said Jérémie Bouchaud, principal analyst, MEMS & Sensors for IHS. “After Apple first used the compasses on the iPhone 3GS, consumers woke up to the delights of smartphone-enabled navigation with intuitive auto rotation of maps, paving the way for the integration of electronic compasses into smartphones with GPS as a standard feature.” Electronic compasses improve the positioning of handheld GPS devices like smartphones and tablets by providing heading information—the direction in which a person or vehicle is moving—with sufficient built-in accuracy that allows the compasses to be used in location-based services and various other applications. Through the phone camera and compass, for instance, consumers can use a smartphone to point to an object—such as a building—and retrieve pertinent information on nearby points of interest, like restaurants and shops. In more advanced applications, the compasses are part of a nine-axis sensor fusion for handsets and tablets. Here, the signal of the compass is combined with the signal of the accelerometer and gyroscope, and the resulting three sensors work to correct the inherent drawbacks of each device. The compass, for example, tends to be slow, but the gyroscope helps readjust the heading. In turn, the compass helps correct the innate drift of the gyroscope. The nine-axis sensor fusion function also can be seen in gaming, another large market for electronic compasses. A breakthrough came with the Sony Move controller for the PlayStation 3, and the next-generation controller of the Nintendo Wii also will feature three sensors to produce more accurate, smoother and faster motion control. Among military applications, single-axis discrete compasses for high-performance navigation represent a small but lucrative market. Shipments are less than 100,000 units, but each compass carries a high cost of several hundred dollars, accounting for a total market worth some $24 million. Japan’s AKM Semiconductor Inc. currently dominates the electronic compass market. The next three players are also Japanese, comprising Aichi Steel, Yamaha Corp. and Alps Electric Co. Ltd., with Italian-French-Swiss entity STMicroelectronics rounding out the Top 5. Other important participants in the space are the three U.S.-based players Memsic Inc., Honeywell International Inc. and Freescale Semiconductor Inc., as well as South Korea’s Amotech and Spanish startup Baolab Microsystems.
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