A new report of HIS technology points out to a forecast of strong growth in global revenue for MEMS microphones from 2013 and 2014 from about $800 million to more than one billion dollars with a continued growth estimated to reach about $1.4 billion by 2017 with estimated shipments of more than 5 billion units, compared with the less than 2 billion shipped last year.
MEMS (micro-electro mechanical systems) microphones are technically analog-to-digital converter circuits that can be fabricated with traditional semiconductor fabrication processes and therefore at a reduced price and in large quantities.
Considering that the MEMS microphone industry is slightly more than a decade old, this exceptional growth can only be explained by the outstanding advantages that MEMS microphones have when compared to their conventional counterparts, the two most important being: limited dimensions and light weight.
Another factor that fostered the growth of MEMS microphones has without doubt been the massive adoption of smart phones and similar devices, most of them embedding one or more microphones with Apple and Samsung being the biggest customers for MEMS devices on the market.
Finally, being MEMS microphones produced, along with all other categories of micro-electro mechanical systems, using conventional semiconductor technology applied to high volume production, the price of a single device is extremely reduced when compared to conventional microphones as one single wafer can contain thousands or more of units.
Therefore, the very large part of the cost for producing a number of batches of MEMS microphones is required by the design, development and prototyping phase plus all the fixed costs required for production (mask costs, etc.)
Recent improvements in MEMS microphones come with a much better signal-to-noise ratio: best MEMS microphones have currently reached a value of 64 decibels. A high signal-to-noise ratio is very important, for example, in smartphones and tablets that have voice command functionality.
Another advantage of very-high-SNR microphones is enhanced support for voice commands like Apple Siri and Google Now.
Another example of device that uses high signal –to-noise ratio MEMS microphones is the Apple iPad, a device which embeds more than two microphones in a single tablet. Samsung is also working on and selling devices with multiple microphones per device. It is estimated that soon high-end devices may embed up to four microphones per single device, therefore increasing the usage of MEMS microphones all over the market.
It is now estimated that MEMS microphones make up almost the totality of all very high signal to noise ratio microphones sold today.
Other prominent applications for the device are in the hearing aid and in the automotive markets
Products like hearing aids require powerful MEMS microphones with high signal-to-noise ratios in order to guarantee the quality of the audio to be heard from the customer. Products like ReSound LinX, among others, are using multiple microphones per device in order to delive the best audio quality to the hearing aid user.
Another big market just ready to start a strong growth is the automotive market, with driverless automobile technology ready to pick up shortly.
Human support not limited to wheel driving has then to be complemented with voice command and therefore MEMS microphones are likely to find there a new, stimulating market.
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