Sony's Image Sensor Is in Short Supply, and Its Best Production Is still Not Enough

On December 24, Beijing time, Sony is producing popular image sensors day and night, but they can't be sold even if they rotate around the clock.

â–² iPhone 11 Pro rear camera

Terushi Shimizu, head of Sony's semiconductor department, said that the company would maintain the operation of the chip factory in the holiday season for the second consecutive year in an attempt to meet the demand for sensors for mobile phone cameras. In this fiscal year, Sony's capital expenditure on semiconductor business will more than double to 280 billion yen (about US $2.6 billion), and will build a new factory in Nagasaki City, which will be put into operation in April 2021.

"Judging from the current market demand, even if all these investments in expanding production capacity are included, it may not be enough," Shimizu said in an interview at its Tokyo headquarters. "I have to apologize to customers because we just can't produce enough sensors."

With mobile phone manufacturers taking camera configuration as a hard indicator to attract customers to upgrade, three camera phones are now very common. The camera resolution of the latest mobile phones of Samsung Electronics and Huawei has exceeded 40 million pixels. It can take ultra wide-angle images and is equipped with a depth sensor. Apple also joined this camp this year and launched the three camera iPhone 11 pro. This is why Sony's sales of image sensors are still soaring when the growth of the smartphone market slows down.

"The camera has become the biggest feature of the smartphone brand. Everyone wants their social media pictures and videos to be good-looking," said Masahiro wakasugi, an industry research analyst at Bloomberg. "Sony has well grasped this demand."

Sony accounts for half of the country

Sony said in May that it controlled 51% of the image sensor market in terms of revenue, with a goal of increasing to 60% in fiscal 2025. Qingshui Zhaoshi expects that this year alone, the company's share will increase by several percentage points.

Semiconductor has now become Sony's most profitable business after the Playstation Game business. In October this year, Sony raised its operating profit forecast of the semiconductor department by 38% to 200 billion yen after the profit of the semiconductor Department soared by nearly 60% in the second quarter. Sony expects the revenue of the semiconductor department to increase by 18% to 1.04 trillion yen, of which image sensors account for 86%.

Sony is currently studying the next generation of sensors that can see the world in 3D mode. Sony uses the "time of flight" (TOF) method, which sends invisible laser pulses and creates a fine depth model by measuring the return time. This helps the mobile camera to more accurately select the virtual background and take more beautiful photos. TOF can also be used in mobile games.

Samsung and Huawei have released flagship models equipped with 3D sensors. It is rumored that Apple will add 3D cameras to its mobile phone product line in 2020.

Shimizu declined to comment on specific customers, but said Sony was ready to meet the sharp growth in demand next year. "This year is the first year of TOF," he said. "Once you start to see interesting applications of this technology, it will encourage people to buy new phones."

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