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February 27, 2013

The Volume Got Turned Up in 2012 with MEMS Microphones

By Joe Rizzo, TMCnet Contributing Writer

What is MEMS? It stands for micro electro mechanical systems and is a technology that in its most general form can be defined as miniaturized mechanical and electro mechanical elements. It is manufactured using the technique of micro-fabrication. As you might imagine, micro-fabrication is the term that describes the process for the fabrication of miniature devices that are micrometers or smaller in size.

An iHS iSuppli MEMS & Sensors Special Report was released today, February 27, 2013. The report states that MEMS microphones that provide clear sound in mobile devices made a lot of noise in 2012 with major shipments and revenue growth.

In fact, findings highlight that shipments of MEMS microphones amounted to 2.05 billion units in 2012. That is an extraordinary 57 percent jump from the 1.3 billion units that were shipped in 2011. iHS iSuppli estimates that shipments will continue to climb by another 30 percent this year reaching a total of about 2.66 billion units. The prediction is that around 4.65 billion MEMS microphones will be shipping by 2016.

Jeremie Bouchaud, director and senior principle analyst for MEMS & sensors at iHS iSuppli said in a statement, “Microphones continue to be one of the biggest success stories in MEMS, with the rapid growth of the device due to its increasing penetration in the four areas of cellphones, laptops, headsets and media tablets. MEMS microphones also can be found to a lesser extent in applications such as gaming, cameras, televisions and hearing aids, contributing to their broadening use overall, with further utilization coming to set-top boxes this year and to automotive during the next three years.”

Multiple microphones are now being adopted in smartphones for noise suppression, in which the cancellation of ambient sounds is crucial for handsets when carrying out voice commands. This is important if you are using something like what Siri does in the Apple (News - Alert) iPhones. So you can see that one of the top applications of MEMS microphones is in cell phones.

Overall, MEMS microphones usage went up to 69 percent in 2012. That is a rise of 17 percent from 2011. It is not surprising that MEMS microphones are also making major headway into the media tablet space. It is seen as becoming the second ranked application by 2016. MEMS microphones are also starting to replace the electret condenser microphones (ECM) in tablets. The fact that MEMS microphones are good for noise suppression and voice commands is an indication that the total device count will be moving forward and most likely at a quick pace.

I recently wrote about Google (News - Alert) offering its own touchscreen Chrombook Pixel. This laptop has three microphones. Two are used in the lid on each side of the Webcam to offer clear, noise free communication. There is also one which is being used to suppress the noise from the keys on the keyboard. If a similar approach is used in tables and smartphones, you can have a stress free way of issuing commands and having them clearly understood.

Right now, MEMS microphones are still more expensive than ECMs. The advantage of the MEMS microphones is in their reliability, performance and ease of manufacturing. Not surprising, last year Samsung (News - Alert) and Apple were the top consumers of MEMS microphones. Together, they represented a 54 percent share of all shipped MEMS microphones.

Edited by Jamie Epstein
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