Press Release

iPhone 4 Drives Adoption of BSI Image Sensors in Smart Phones


Backside Illumination (BSI) sensors—the sort used in the mobile camera of Apple Inc.’s iPhone 4—are leading the charge in a newly resurgent market for image sensors in general, and other handset manufacturers are likely to follow Apple’s bold move to boost image-capture possibilities in smart phones, according to market research firm iSuppli Corp.

Shipments of BSI sensors for mid- to high-end smart handsets are projected to reach 33.4 million units in 2010, up from virtually nil last year. The market will continue to post sizable increases during the next four years and rise almost tenfold to over 300 million units by 2014, consumer electronics research from iSuppli indicates.

The startling growth of BSI sensors is completely in line with the robust, double-digit expansion projected this year for the overall area image sensor market as it recovers from the economic downturn and also penetrate new applications. Area image sensor shipments in 2010 will hit 1.7 billion units, up 20 percent from 1.4 billion units in 2009, with revenue during the same period climbing to $6.9 billion, up from $5.9 billion.

Image Sensor Forecast

In the case of Apple’s iPhone 4, which arrived in June, a 5-megapixel BSI image sensor from OmniVision Technologies is credited with enhancing image quality taken with the smart phone’s camera, said Pamela Tufegdzic, analyst for consumer electronics at iSuppli.

The BSI architecture in the iPhone 4 employs a 1.75-micron-pixel sensor that improves light absorption, resulting in better image quality in low-light conditions. The bigger pixel size, compared to traditional Frontside Illumination (FSI) sensors, is also ideal for high-definition video recording.

“With Apple tending to shape trends, handset OEMS are likely to follow suit and incorporate enhanced cameras with BSI image sensors,” Tufegdzic noted. “BSI sensors will first see utilization in high-end mobile handsets, and then gradually make their way into the camera phones of lower-cost feature handsets as the price of BSI sensors comes down.”

By 2014, approximately 75 percent of mid- to higher-end smart phones will include BSI sensors—a huge leap from the 14 percent projected for the end of this year, she noted.

CMOS or CCD?
Within the image sensor market, sensors employing Complementary Metal Oxide Semiconductor (CMOS) technology—such as the BSI type—are on the ascent, trumping their rival Charge Coupled Device (CCD) counterparts.

Already the mainstream image sensor technology in mobile handsets and digital SLR cameras, CMOS is making its way into lower-end, point-and-shoot cameras. Furthermore, the sensors are used in an increasing number of computers for webcam video, as well as in various automotive applications such as blind-spot detection, parking assist and infrared night vision. 

In comparison, the fortunes of CCD sensors—which cost more to produce—continue to decline, iSuppli’s consumer electronics research shows. By 2014, CCD sensor shipments will be off by nearly half of their levels in 2008, with the market inexorably heading in the direction of CMOS image sensors.

Read More > iPhone 4 Finally Brings BSI Image Sensors to the Handset Market