Samsung Electronics is expected to give Sony a run for its money by developing special image sensors for Time of Flight (ToF) modules that allow for 3D sensing by the end of this year, according to industry sources on Sept. 3. Mass production is planned for the first quarter of next year.
This means the next batch of smartphones from Samsung in 2020 can be fitted with Samsung-made ToF module sensors. ToF is a camera technology that allows for 3D viewing that can be applied to VR, AR and 5G.
The pixels of the ToF image sensors to be developed by Samsung’s System LSI division will be 10㎛ or smaller, and the picture resolution at VGA(640×480) or slightly higher.
“Samsung Electronics’ IM division alone will create enough demand for the System LSI business for the time being,” said one industry watcher. “Samsung will probably work its way up – or out – from there.”
Likewise with China’s OPPO last year that first inserted ToF sensor modules in the rear cameras of its R17 smartphones, Samsung has using ToF technology for its Galaxy S10 5G, the S10 Note+ and the Galaxy A80. Huawei is using it for its Mate X phones, while Apple is in talks with suppliers for adopting the technology for its new iPhone next year.
So far, all the ToF sensors supplied to the rear cameras were entirely from Japan’s Sony. Even when adding front cameras, Sony probably has an over 90% market share.
The ToF module sensors in LG Electronics’ G8 ThinQ were supplied by Germany’s Infineon, but these are mounted on the front of the phone, and not the back.
Apple is likely to use Sony’s sensors in the rear camera ToF modules of its new iPhones to be launched next year. In 2015, Sony acquired Belgium sensor maker Soft Kinetic System to venture into the ToF sensor market.
According to market research firm Tech Systems Research, the ToF sensor market stood at 47 million units this year, and will grow to 155 million next year. By 2021, it is expected to surge to 255 million units.
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