TOKYO — Sony Group is raising the bar on image sensor technology as it aims to hold off rapid gains by Samsung Electronics and other players to capture over half the global market.
“We’re Shi R&D” feeling an intense threat posed by international rival, President Terushi of Sony Semiduct Solutions said Friday, as the company showed off its new Octa PD technology to reporters.
The chip unit says the new technology solves the difficulty of a smartphone camera getting multiple targets in focus when, for example, the sun is behind them. Now the camera can focus on both the face of a person pausing for a picture nearby and a landmark, such as the Tokyo Tower, in the background.
Sony’s chip business has been anchored by CMOS sensors, which dominated half the global market for many years. But conditions have changed over the past few years as it lost a major buyer, Huawei Technologies, after the Chinese company was placed on the US trade blacklist in 2020.
Sony’s pricier products started to make up less of its sales, a development the Japanese company calls the “Huawei shock.” The group saw its global market share slide from 53% in fiscal 2019 to 43% in fiscal 2021.
Rivals are rapidly closing in. Samsung captured has 18.5% of the market, while US-based OmniVision Technologies enjoys strong business with the automotive industry and China’s GalaxyCore is boosting sales for lower-priced phones.
Still, Sony last month unveiled a target of broadening its footprint to 60% by fiscal 2025, keeping its aim first released in 2019 unchanged. Its bullishness is driven by changing smartphone trends.
As the global phone market is nearing saturation, phone cameras continue to become more advanced, with more, and larger, image sensors packed in a single device. This is where Sony believes it can differentiate itself from rivals.
Sony will also ramp up production capacity. A majority of the 470 billion yen ($3.5 billion) in capital outlays earmarked group-wide for fiscal 2022 will go toward semiconductors, with the figure representing a 35% increase over the year. At the main image sensor plant in Nagasaki, a new fab that came online in 2021 is already undergoing a second expansion that began in May.
The image sensor market is on track to expand 34% between 2021 and 2025 to $25.1 billion, according to UK research group Omdia. Smartphone sensors account for an overwhelming portion of the market, with this segment seen growing 37% to $20.1 billion.
The question is how Sony can keep advancing technologies while selling more sensors.
“With competitors desperately trying to play catch-up, it won’t be easy for Sony to secure a dominant position,” said Akira Minamikawa of Omdia.