Apple has largely contributed to the boom of the sensor market in the last 8 years as a user. It has established the use of motion sensors, light sensors and fingerprint sensors in smartphones. Apple became the top consumer of sensors in mobile devices ahead of Samsung in 2010 and it has kept this position ever since.
Last year Apple also became the top manufacturer of sensors in value for mobile devices capturing 29% of this market and jumping ahead of STMicroelectronics. This surge in value is thanks to its fingerprint sensors. Indeed, Apple acquired Authentec (a leading fingerprint sensor supplier) in 2012 and it introduced its sensor in its own iPhone and iPad in 2013 and 2014 respectively. The significantly higher price of fingerprint sensors compared to other sensors made Apple the top sensor maker in value since 2014. All of Apple’s sensors are used exclusively in its own products.
Is it just the beginning? Apple has hired a myriad of sensor engineers in the last three years and some in the industry wonder whether Apple is going to insource additional sensors. IHS does not believe so. Accelerometers, gyroscopes, light sensors, pressure sensors etc. have become a commodity. There are plenty of excellent suppliers of these sensors contrary to fingerprint sensors three years ago. There is little gained by Apple fabricating them. IHS believes that the purpose of Apple’s sensor engineering team is to know the nuts and bolts of sensors in terms of technology, design, manufacturing, cost and performance. Apple applies this knowledge to benchmark suppliers and to dictate its conditions in term of price, target specs etc. This army of sensor engineers also enables Apple to keep its innovative edge with sensor technology. It can explore future use cases e.g. in mobile healthcare. Apple also researches new sensor principles and submits numerous patents for new sensor technologies and implementations e.g. using the entire touchscreen as a fingerprint sensor, potentially with ultrasonic technology.