No one loves Sony without 100 million pixels?

When the newly released domestic mobile phones are publicized, the main camera is basically Samsung's 64 million pixels or 100 million pixels, and it is rare to see models with Sony sensors. After the popular IMX586, Sony's follow-up sensor does not seem to be sought after by manufacturers. Instead, the limelight turned to Samsung's ultra-high pixel sensor.

▲ Redmi Note 9 Pro equipped with Samsung ISOCELL HM2 100 million pixel sensor.

Next, cameras with hundreds of millions or high pixels may become a new trend for domestic manufacturers. On the ultra-high pixel track, Samsung is currently in the right direction.

Sony stall

Recently, Sony announced its financial report for the second quarter of fiscal year 2020. Both sales revenue and operating profit have increased. Everything went smoothly and was not affected by the epidemic. But in specific business areas, there is a hint of worry.

Let's look at a set of numbers first.

According to Sony's fiscal year 2020 Q2 financial report, in the imaging and sensing solutions business (I&SS), sales revenue decreased by 3%, and operating profit fell by 26.5%. In fiscal year 2019, Sony's sensor business operating profit reached 240 billion yen, in line with the gaming division. After the Q2 financial report was announced, Sony estimated that its image sensor business would plummet by 66% in fiscal year 2020.

According to data released by the British Omdia research company, Sony accounted for 56.2% of the global CMOS sensor market share in Q3 of 2019. By Q2 of 2020, this number has become 42.5%, while Samsung Electronics has increased from 16.7% to 21.7%.

In the global smartphone sensor analysis report released by Strategy Analytics in mid-October, in the first half of 2020, Sony accounted for 44% of the market, ranking first, followed by Samsung with 32%, while the entire mobile phone sensor market grew year-on-year 15%, total revenue reached 6.3 billion US dollars.

At the product level, it is closer to changes in market share. I remember that last year was the world of Sony IMX586 sensors. With the start of the "Pixel War" this year, the flagships and sub-flagships of domestic manufacturers have recently adopted Samsung high-pixel sensors.

In addition, there is another factor affecting the market performance of Sony's sensors, namely the "Huawei Incident." As the US ban on Huawei took effect, Sony also stopped supplying CMOS to Huawei. Although the ban was subsequently lifted at the end of October, the production capacity of Huawei's mobile phones was still affected by the "cut supply".

Since the Huawei P20, the image sensor of Huawei's flagship mobile phone has been customized to Sony, using the 40 million pixel IMX600 series arranged in RYYB. With the continuous growth of Huawei's shipments in recent years, sensor orders accounted for about 20% of Sony's, or 200 billion yen (about 1.9 billion US dollars). After Huawei's mobile phone production was affected, Sony lost a certain amount of capital and expected profits.

Sony panicked?

Sony's image sensor business started in 2010, when its market share was only 7%. In the initial stage, Sony invested heavily in expanding CMOS production capacity, investing 40 billion yen and 100 billion yen in Kumamoto Technology Center and Nagasaki Technology Center to expand the production of Exmor and Exmor R sensors.

▲ ▲ iPhone 4S camera module. Picture from: iFixit

In 2011, Apple chose to cooperate with Sony and began to use Exmor R image sensor on iPhone 4S, and then all Apple iOS devices began to purchase Sony image sensor, and it has been cooperating until now and the number of pixels has not exceeded 12 million.

Over the past ten years, the surge in shipments of iPhone and iOS devices has provided Sony with an opportunity to establish its early competitive advantage in the image sensor field. Apple has also become the largest customer of Sony's image sensor business.

In 2018, Bloomberg wrote an article that nearly half of Sony’s sensor orders came from Apple. Although there is no specific digital disclosure, it can also be seen from the side that Sony’s sensors are extremely dependent on Apple. Apple's indifferent attitude towards high pixels has more or less affected Sony's decision-making.

The delayed listing of the iPhone 12 series this year also affected the revenue of Sony's image sensor in the second quarter. With the successive shipments of the iPhone 12 series, it is expected to ease the problem of funding for Sony's image sensors.

In the face of an unfavorable situation, Sony’s Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Yuki Toshiki stated that Sony will "expand and enrich its customer base" in fiscal 2021, and expects that its image sensor business will resume in fiscal 2022 (20%-30%). Profit) profitability.

▲ Vivo X50 Pro+ with Samsung ISOCELL GN1 50-megapixel sensor.

Turning to the domestic market, the recent products using Samsung sensors mainly come from Xiaomi, Redmi, vivo, and iQOO, such as Redmi Note 9 Pro, Xiaomi 10 series, vivo X50 Pro+, and iQOO 5. However, OPPO, which has had a deep cooperation with Sony before, has not made any major moves recently. In addition, the wave of new mobile phones in domestic mobile phones has slowed down in the second half of the year, and there are no more orders to Sony. These objective adverse news are combined. , Causing some "lost" situation in Sony's image sensor business.

With the continued shipment of the iPhone 12 series and deepening of cooperation with domestic manufacturers, Sony can slowly get rid of the impact of the "Huawei incident" on the sensor business.

But the question is, will Samsung on the other side wait quietly, or will Sony, which is recovering, have new sensors to win domestic manufacturers?

Samsung chase

As early as 2018, Samsung took surpassing Sony as a goal and did several things.

First, start to transform the DRAM production line in Hwaseong, South Korea, and convert the production of image sensors. After completion, the monthly production capacity can reach 120,000. (Sony is about 100,000 yuan per month.)

Second, choose a different direction from Sony's high-speed sensors, and actively promote the development of high-pixel image sensors based on the advantages of ISOCELL.

Third, actively seek cooperation with Chinese manufacturers. During Sony’s supply cut, Samsung won several orders from domestic mobile phone manufacturers such as Xiaomi and vivo. At the same time, they are also actively contacting Apple and Huawei to seek the possibility of cooperation (this is not, there are already rumors that the iPhone will be equipped with Samsung's periscope lens).

Fourth, Samsung is a comprehensive electronics manufacturer covering flash memory, chips, sensors, and screen panels. Compared with Sony, it enjoys a certain scale advantage. In addition to mobile phone sensors, it can also independently produce the entire camera module including the sensor and provide a complete set of services, but it is currently limited to its own Galaxy series phones.

Sony's image sensor is characterized by overall technical advantages such as fast reading and low noise, and it does not pay much attention to ultra-high pixels. At the same time, Japanese analyst Tetsuo Omori said that "Sony sensors are temporarily unable to meet the demand for high-resolution smartphone manufacturers.

Samsung's latest 108 million pixel sensor model is ISOCELL HM2, which has been developed to the third generation. Compared with HMX and HM1, the HM2 sensor size has been reduced, and it still supports "9 in one" and simulates 2.1μm large pixels. The size of the sensor becomes smaller, the overall volume is correspondingly smaller (thickness is 10%, area is 15%), and it is not so obtrusive when placed on a mobile phone. The space saved can be reserved for other cameras, batteries, or thinner body.

In addition to the three 100 million pixels, Samsung currently has a 64 million pixel GW2 (it has been iterated to GW3 and has not yet been shipped) and a 50 million pixel GN1. These sensors have appeared in Xiaomi, Redmi, and vivo's flagship, On the flagship and mid-range models.

In contrast, Sony, the public version of IMX686 with only 64 million pixels, is an iterative and upgraded version of IMX586. IMX686 is stable and stable, with limited upgrades, and its advantages in horizontal comparison are not obvious. It is not suitable for the current fierce domestic mobile phone market. For example, IMX689 (OPPO) and IMX600/700 (Huawei) are all customized brands and will not be available for the time being. On the whole, Sony's image sensor seems to be a bit inadequate, and the overall strategy is slightly conservative and cautious.

The development path of Samsung's image sensor is somewhat similar to that of Sony. It is accumulating patented technology while investing in building factories and expanding production capacity, forming its own technical barriers. Sony relies on Apple and Samsung relies on Galaxy. The next issue is the choice of development direction. The difference between the two.

"Huawei's supply cut" has cast a shadow over Sony's sensor revenue, and it will take time to recover. At this time, Samsung is seizing the opportunity, All in high-resolution, full bet, if you fail to succeed, you will be benevolent. What's more, Samsung may not survive on the image sensor. (The big deal is that the price of memory chips will go up)

The next year will be very important for both Sony and Samsung. On the one hand, it will be seen whether Sony can launch more competitive new products and regain its vitality. On the other hand, it will see whether Samsung can make great strides and continue to advance. We can observe whether the cameras of domestic mobile phones in 2021 are more Samsung or Sony. If it is Samsung’s 64 million pixels and 100 million pixels, the image sensor field is likely to change.

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