Samsung leads the adoption of pressure sensors in Smartphones, for floor-accurate indoor geolocation

Samsung leads the adoption of pressure sensors in Smartphones, for floor-accurate indoor geolocation

Market news |
By eeNews Europe

Global shipments of microelectromechanical system (MEMS) pressure sensors in cellphones are set to rise to 681 million units in 2016, up more than eightfold from 82 million in 2012, according to the IHS iSuppli MEMS & Sensors Service at information and analytics provider IHS. Shipments this year are expected to double to 162 million units, primarily due to Samsung’s usage of pressure sensors in the Galaxy S4 and other smartphone models.

“Samsung is the only major original equipment manufacturer (OEM) now using pressure sensors in all its flagship smartphone models,” said Jérémie Bouchaud, director and senior principal analyst for MEMS & sensors at IHS. “The company appears to be slightly ahead of its time in its adoption of pressure sensors, even though the most compelling application—indoor navigation—is still not ready for deployment. However, Samsung seems to want to anticipate the start of this market and get a jump on the competition for pressure sensors. The pressure device represents just one component among a wealth of different sensors used in the S4.”

Pressure’s rising

Besides Samsung, few other OEMs have been using pressure sensors in smartphones. The only other smartphone OEMs to use pressure sensors in their products are Sony Mobile in a couple of models in 2012, and a few Chinese vendors, like Xiaomi. Apple, which pioneered the use of MEMS sensors in smartphones, does not employ pressure sensors at the moment in the iPhone. However, IHS expects Apple will start them in 2014, which will contribute to another doubling of the market in 2014 to 325 million units.

Applying pressure

Although pressure sensors aren’t very useful currently in smartphones, they hold strong potential for the future. The most interesting application now is the fast Global Positioning System (GPS) lock, wherein the GPS chipset can lock on to a satellite signal and calculate positions more quickly by using the pressure sensor to determine the smartphone’s altitude. However, the most exciting use for pressure sensors in the future will be indoor navigation, an area with massive potential growth in retail and travel applications. Pressure sensors will provide the floor accuracy required to determine which level a user is on within a structure.

While the ecosystem is not yet fully in place for indoor location/navigation, IHS anticipates this market will reach a breakthrough in growth during the next 12 to 18 months. By this time, Samsung will have a considerable lead over Apple and other competitors in the installed base of pressure sensors in smartphones.

Although Apple pioneered the usage of MEMS sensors in smartphones, and was the top consumer of these devices for many years, Samsung in 2012 took the lead from Apple for the first time. With Samsung expected to maintain hegemony in smartphone shipments in 2013 and the company loading up on the number of MEMS and other sensors in each smartphone that it ships, its lead in this area is is likely to continue to grow. Given its emphasis on detecting and adapting to consumer lifestyles, the Galaxy S4 integrates a wealth of different sensors, including the accelerometer, RGB light, geomagnetic, proximity, gyroscope, barometer, gesture and even temperature and humidity varieties.

A USD236 Bill of Materials for the Samsung Galaxy S4

According to a virtual teardown conducted by the IHS iSuppli Mobile Handset Cost Model Service, the HSPA+ version of Samsung Electronics’ Galaxy S4 smartphone carries a USD236 bill of materials (BOM), up significantly from last year’s model—the Galaxy S III—due to major upgrades in the display, sensors and application processor and supporting memory.

The HSPA+ S4 with 16 gigabytes of NAND flash memory costs USD244.00 when the USD8.50 manufacturing cost is added in, as presented in the attached table.

The BOM of the HSPA+ version of the S4 is USD30.40 higher than for the equivalent version of the Galaxy S III, a 15 percent increase. The Galaxy S III pricing analysis was performed by IHS in September 2012.

This virtual teardown and pricing estimation was derived from information and device specifications released by Samsung, combined with information regarding known components and suppliers. The information presented is preliminary and subject to change, pending IHS’s actual physical teardown of the device.

“Although its hardware is not radically different from the Galaxy S III introduced in April of 2012, the Samsung Galaxy S4 includes some critical component updates that enhance its functionality as well as its BOM cost,” said Vincent Leung, senior analyst for cost benchmarking at IHS. “Among the upgrades are a larger, full high-definition (HD) display; a beefed-up Samsung processor; and a wealth of new sensors that set a record high for the number of such devices in a smartphone design. And despite the larger display and other changes, the Galaxy S4 has roughly the same width and the same ease of handling as the Galaxy S III.”

Display advance

The S4 employs a full-HD active-matrix organic light-emitting diode (AMOLED) display from Samsung Display with a pixel format of 1,920 by 1,080. This compares to the 1,280 by 720 WXGA resolution display in the S III. The S4’s HD display and touch-screen subsystem is estimated to carry a cost of USD75.00, up from USD65.00 for the S III. This represents the single largest area of cost increase for the S4 compared to the S III.

“While many brands have released smartphone models using full-HD LCD displays, the S4 represents the first with an AMOLED display at this resolution,” said Vinita Jakhanwal, director for small & medium displays at IHS. “Reaching a true pixel density greater than 300 ppi has been a challenge for AMOLED display makers. However, Samsung was able to enhance AMOLED display performance by implementing new technologies that also drove up the cost of the display.”

Apps processor beefs up its cores

For the apps processor in the HSPA+ version of the Galaxy S4, Samsung is believed to be employing an Exynos 5 Octa solution, an eight-core chip using its own design, and manufactured with Samsung’s own 28-nanometer process. This compares to the quad-core Exynos apps processor in the Galaxy S III. The cost of the Galaxy S4’s processor is estimated at $30.00, compared to $17.50 for the chip in the Galaxy S III.

The Galaxy S4’s eight-core Exynos processor uses ARM’s big.LITTLE microprocessor architecture. The architecture employs a hybrid approach generally referred to as heterogeneous computing, whereby two central processing units (CPUs)—a quad-core Cortex-A15 CPU and a quad-core Cortex-A7 CPU—are integrated into the same chip.

“With big.LITTLE, there is a computing and power consumption tradeoff, in which less computing-intensive tasks, such as phone calls and social media apps, can be handled by the more power-efficient but slower A7 cores,” said Wayne Lam, senior analyst for wireless communications at IHS. “This allows the bigger, more powerful and energy-draining A15 cores to remain idle when they are not needed, preserving battery life. The A15 cores go into action only for more computing-intensive applications, like video gaming or decoding video.”

This is a unique approach compared to Nvidia’s 4+1 Tegra setup or even Qualcomm’s asynchronous Krait-cores in the Snapdragon, where the processing cores are evenly matched.

The 4G LTE version of the Galaxy S4 employs a different apps processor and baseband, the Qualcomm Snapdragon 600, a quad-core apps processor and LTE radio solution. Samsung had a similar hardware differentiation with the LTE version of the Galaxy S III. Given the different apps processors between the Samsung Exynos-powered S4 and the Qualcomm Snapdragon-powered Galaxy S4, some variances in the software capabilities and application performance for the two models are expected. However, that has yet to be verified by Samsung.

Sensuous sensors

With its emphasis on detecting and adapting to consumer lifestyles, the Galaxy S4 integrates an array of different sensors, including the accelerometer, RGB light, geomagnetic, proximity, gyroscope, barometer, IR gesture and even temperature and humidity varieties.

The humidity and temperature sensor as well as the IR gesture sensor are new in the Galaxy S4 compared to the Galaxy S III. Because of these new capabilities, the user interface and sensor subsystem of the Galaxy S4 carries an estimated cost of $16.00, up from $12.70 in the Galaxy S III.

Although the LTE version of the Galaxy S4 employs a more advanced mobile radio than the HSPA+ version, its total BOM cost is slightly lower, at $233.00.

The LTE Galaxy S4’s wireless section costs $25.00, higher than the $16.00 for the HSPA+, because it supports the new 4G LTE air interface standard as well as up to six global LTE bands.

However, the LTE version keeps expenditures down by using the Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 solution, which costs $20.00. An additional cost benefit of using the Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 solution comes from the use of a lower-cost wireless LAN/Bluetooth/FM/GPS subsystem.

Samsung inside

Samsung makes extensive use of its own internally manufactured parts in all of its phones, including the Galaxy S4. The company is believed to supply the display and touch-screen module, as well as the apps processor and power management integrated circuit, according to the preliminary IHS analysis. Samsung also is the primary supplier of the SDRAM and flash memory, although the company could employ alternative sources for these commodity parts. All told, Samsung accounts for at least $149 worth of component content in the HSPA+ version of the Galaxy S4, representing 63 percent of the total BOM, based on the results of the virtual teardown.

Intel and Broadcom too

Intel Corp. is believed to be the supplier of the baseband processor and RF transceiver in the HSPA+ version of the Galaxy S4, just as it did for the Galaxy S III. Broadcom is the likely source for the Wireless LAN/Bluetooth/FM/GPS subsystem and the GPS/GLONASS section in the non-Qualcomm variant of the Galaxy S4.

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