Nikkei suggests Sony to double supply of image sensors to Apple

February 12, 2014 // By Peter Clarke
Struggling consumer electronics company Sony Corp., is in negotiations with Apple to double its supply of image sensors for an iPhone due in 2015, according to Nikkei.

The development suggests there is hope for Sony as it attempts to minimize its exposure in the thin-margin branded consumer goods and pivot towards components for mobile and imaging. Last week Sony announced that it would be selling its iconic Viao personal computer brand to Japan Industrial Partners Inc., and that it plans to operate its TV business as a subsidiary company from July 2014. This is being interpreted widely as a preparation for that also to be sold off.

Sony has been identified as the supplier of the image sensor for the 8-megapixel rear-mounted camera on the iPhone 5s while the front facing "FaceTime" camera is said to come from Omnivision Technologies Inc. Apple could be looking to add Sony on the screen-side at Omnivision's expense.

The global CMOS image sensor market was worth about $7.8 billion in 2013 and will be worth about $8.7 billion in 2014, according to market research company Yole Developpement (Lyon, France). Yole reckons that Omnivision, Samsung and Sony will continue to lead in CMOS image sensors for handsets thanks to their advanced technology, large installed base and cost-optimized manufacturing set ups.

Sony's image sensor sales are expected to total 360 billion yen (about $3.5 billion) in its current financial year, according to the Nikkei report.

An approach by Apple is thought to have had a bearing on Sony's deal to buy the Tsuruoka 300mm wafer fab from Renesas Electronics Corp., for 7.51 billion yen (about $73 million).

The deal is set to go through on March 31, 2014. Sony will continue to make system LSI chips there for Renesas under a legacy contract agreement for a limited period but Sony also plans to spend 35 billion yen (about $340 million) to create the Sony Yamagata Technology Center.

The investment is part of Sony's long-term plan to increase its total image sensor production capacity for image sensors from the current 60,000 wafers per month