Cameras in Focus as Smartphone Image Sensors Hit Milestone

Smartphone imaging systems continued to see strong hardware upgrades this year, according to Counterpoint Research. Their Global Smartphone Camera Demand-Side Report highlights CMOS image sensor (CIS) content per smartphone will expand to an average of 4.1. Despite the global components crunch, CIS growth is expected to grow by double digits to reach almost 6bn units in 2021.

“A big driver has been triple-and-above main camera setups, which accounted for two-thirds of all smartphones sold during the first half,” notes Tarun Pathak, Counterpoint’s director of smartphone research. “What’s really interesting is where a lot of that growth is coming from – Africa, Latin America, India, and other emerging markets. As we move through post-COVID upgrade cycles, especially in Android heavy markets, we’re seeing OEMs offer increasingly sophisticated camera hardware to their customers across all segments.”

“High-resolution has also been an area of focus, with 48MP-plus becoming standard. Again, we’re seeing emerging markets lead in growth; and 64MP is starting to become a major segment too. High-res is very important for what is the most hotly contested price band globally – the wholesale $100-$399 category. During the second quarter, two-thirds of devices were high-res and we expect further share increases for the full year,” added Pathak.

A confluence of factors, like more powerful chipsets, breakthroughs in AI image processing, and other hardware and software advancements, deliver improved imaging experiences for consumers in all segments. Features that were once only available on ultra-premium devices are now emerging across OEMs’ broader portfolios, from contextual shooting, optical zoom, and ultra-high res through to time-of-flight and macro capabilities.

“If you’re a product manager today delivering a quad-cam device, then you’re probably thinking of configuring wide + ultrawide + macro + depth. But the playing field changes quickly, and we’re likely to see the macro and ultrawide merge, leaving room for even more options like telephoto or time-of-flight. Increasing choice and complexity is why algorithm development has become such a critical factor in the success of camera systems,” states Ethan Qi, Counterpoint’s lead camera components analyst.

“At the end of the day, it’s not about the camera or mega-pixel counts or how powerful your processor is. It’s a combination of things: How good is the integration? The AI algorithms? Is tuning tweaked appropriately for the market? It’s the sum of parts that delivers the experience,” according to Neil Shah, Counterpoint’s Vice President of Research. “OEMs understand this, but it’s difficult to get right. It’s as much art as it is science.”

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