Apple is now taking most of the smartphone profits from the market, but a few component manufacturers are coming along for the ride. Sales of gyroscopes rose 66 percent in 2011 over the prior year, according to iHS, as record iOS device sales pushed the small motion sensor market to new highs.
This marks the first time that gyroscopes outsold accelerometers to take the top spot for the overall $1.6 billion spent in MEMS, or the microelectromechanical systems market. Both devices measure motion, but at a high level there’s a key difference: gyroscopes detect rotation while accelerometers measure acceleration.
While many of Apple’s competitors use gyroscopes in smartphones and tablets, some are still using the less sophisticated accelerometers. In contrast, all of Apple’s iOS devices — including the iPod touch — use gyroscopes. For this reason, iHS suggests that a boom in fourth quarter iPhone and iPad sales pushed gyroscopes ahead of the pack.
Based on device sales forecasts, and a growing need for such sensors, iHS figures that the gyroscope will maintain the top spot among MEMS, eventually eclipsing $1 billion in sales by 2014.
I actually wonder if iHS might be low on its estimates. The research firm notes that the 3-axis gyro was the biggest seller, accounting for 71 percent of all gyroscopes sold. These are useful for both smartphones and tablets to determine the x, y and z axis of a device. That function coincides with the growth in mobile gaming as mobile chips gain better graphics. And we know that the market for both smartphones and tablets is on an upward trajectory; perhaps more so after Windows 8 arrives as a third major option in the tablet market.
But I’m thinking of other connected devices that can benefit from motion sensors. Television remotes for smart televisions are one; after all, who wants to play Angry Birds on a big screen with a joystick? Health-related gadgets, another growing device area, are another sector for opportunity. Sports activities could be as well: think of gyroscopes in a game ball or equipment to monitor scoring plays or metrics on speed and distance, for example.
Smartphones and tablets may have given rise to the lowly gyroscope, but it’s just the beginning as many of our devices get smarter and more connected.