Sony's imaging business is booming, cannot keep up with demand
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In spite of its failing smartphone business, Sony is still making a lot of money on smartphones. That’s all thanks to the tiny little cameras on the back of the phone in your pocket.
Sony’s image sensor business is exploding, so much so that the Japanese giant’s factories have been pumping out silicon non-stop over the holiday season. Even running their assembly lines 24 hours a day doesn’t seem to be enough for ravenous OEMs. Speaking to Bloomberg, Terushi Shimizu, the head of Sony’s semiconductor division, said:
Judging by the way things are going, even after all that investment in expanding capacity, it might still not be enough. We are having to apologize to customers because we just can’t make enough.
The most likely culprit for the spike in demand? Triple-camera arrays, like those on the Galaxy S10 and iPhone 11 Pro. According to Masahiro Wakasugi, an analyst with Bloomberg, smartphone cameras have “become the biggest differentiator for smartphone brands.” Add to that the massive draw of optics-focused social media platforms like Instagram and YouTube and it’s no wonder high-end smartphone cameras are in demand.
That’s where Sony saw an opportunity. The smartphone optics business has been a huge moneymaker for the company.
Sony’s semiconductor business, which primarily relies on image sensors, is its most profitable business other than the PlayStation division. Sony now predicts its total revenue from semiconductor production will top JP ¥1.04 trillion (US $9.48 billion) at the end of this fiscal year. Imaging makes up 86% of that business.
Almost every major smartphone brand relies on Sony for the image processors used in their handsets. Now that mid-range and even budget handsets are starting to incorporate two or more lenses on their backs, Sony is sitting in a perfect spot to reap the rewards of a growing global mobile imaging business.