Micro-electro-mechanical system (MEMS) sensors automatically switch screen orientation from portrait to landscape, as well as to track orientation for augmented reality and indoor navigation applications, but mostly for smartphones and tablets today. The convertible Ultrabook, however, also requires MEMS accelerometers,gyroscopes, altimeters and compasses, since convertible Ultrabooks combine a laptop with a detachable screen that acts like a touch tablet. As a result the MEMS chip market is expected to jump sharply: R. Colin Johnson
Here is what IHS says about MEMS in Ultrabooks: Intel Corp.’s initiative to promote new features like indoor navigation and augmented reality in ultrabooks will spur dramatic growth in the sales of motion sensors for the next-generation notebook PCs, with revenue rising by a factor of 14 during the next four years.
Global sales of motion sensors—including accelerometers, gyroscopes and compasses—used in ultrabooks will expand to $117.3 million by 2016, up from just $8.3 million in 2012, as shown in the figure attached. This equates to a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 93.9 percent for 2012 through 2016, according to the IHS iSuppli MEMS & Sensors Service at information and analytics provider IHS (NYSE: IHS).
“At its Intel Developer Forum (IDF) this month, Intel confirmed that new ultrabooks will support similar features now found in smartphones and media tablets, such as gaming, indoor navigation and augmented reality—all requiring the use of motion sensors,” said Jérémie Bouchaud, director and senior principal analyst for MEMS and sensors at IHS. “This will open up an entirely new market for motion sensors, specifically for accelerometers, gyroscopes and compasses.”
The drop test
Until now, the only type of motion sensors used in notebooks were accelerometers, which are employed for the free-fall function that protects the hard disk drive (HDD) by parking the read/write head if the computer is dropped. This market is bound to shrink due to the adoption of solid state drives (SSDs), which eliminate the need for HDDs in notebooks.
However, the advent of ultrabooks makes use of accelerometers relevant again in notebook PCs, used for functions such as auto screen rotation. Ultrabooks also will open up a new market for compasses and gyroscopes, which detect direction and motion. These devices are commonly used for gaming and for navigation in media tablets and smartphones, whose features and functionality ultrabooks are seeking to emulate.
Convertible Ultrabooks coming
Intel began strongly promoting the use of motion sensors and even pressure sensors in ultrabooks last year. However, the company had not clearly stated that these sensors would be used in convertible and detachable ultrabooks. Prior to IDF, IHS stated that it would not make sense to add a gyroscope or compass to a conventional ultrabook because the format would not be appropriate.
At the time, IHS believed that it would only make sense to use motion sensors for convertible ultrabooks—those that could be converted into a monolithic tablet and detached from the base. At IDF, Intel confirmed this is where MEMS sensors will be used: in convertible—or detached—ultrabooks.