September 26, 2022

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Since Jobs released the first iPhone, which kicked off the development of the world’s smartphone industry, Apple has been leading the development of global smartphones. As long as it is a technology launched by Apple, other mobile phone manufacturers will basically follow it one after another, and thus bring waves of related chips, ranging from fingerprint chips, TWS chips, to VCSEL and UWB chips, which have been caused by Apple. The chip that became an instant hit, how is it now?

Fingerprint chip: no more brilliance

When the iPhone 5s, the first smartphone with Touch ID fingerprint recognition technology, took off in 2013, the world of smartphones seemed to open up to a new world. With the advantages of convenience, ease of use, stability, and low cost, fingerprint recognition technology has instantly become a favorite in the smartphone market.

In 2014, Huawei launched the first domestic mobile phone Mate7 with fingerprint recognition. Since then, many domestic mobile phone brands have joined, and the fingerprint recognition chip market has ushered in explosive growth. In terms of the growth rate of shipments, fingerprint recognition has achieved rapid penetration in 2014 and 2015, and the growth rate has risen rapidly. According to statistics from the market research institution HIS, the global shipments of fingerprint recognition chips in 2014 were 316 million, while in 2015 It increased to 499 million, an increase of 58%. Major touch chip and fingerprint recognition chip manufacturers also achieved historic revenue breakthroughs during this period. Taking Swedish fingerprint recognition chip supplier FPC as an example, its revenue increased nearly 10 times in 2015.

From 2016 to the first half of 2017, the demand for mobile terminals greatly stimulated the shipment of fingerprint chips. Statistics show that the shipment of fingerprint recognition sensors in 2016 has reached 689 million, compared with 23 million in 2013, the CAGR value is as high as 210%, and in the total shipments of smartphones in 2017, about More than 60% of smartphones use fingerprint recognition technology.

In the second half of 2017, Apple mobile phones abandoned fingerprint recognition and switched to Face ID. Coupled with the saturation of traditional products in the terminal market, the shipments of fingerprint chips decreased, but the emergence of under-screen fingerprint recognition became a fingerprint chip. The new “exciting points” of manufacturers, including Synaptics, Goodix, Qualcomm, Egis, etc., have joined the R&D team. During that period, Goodix Technology, the leader in domestic fingerprint chips, ushered in the peak moment with the mass production of under-screen fingerprint chips. semiconductor company.

However, the market carnival will eventually come to an end.

On the one hand, after several years of development, both ordinary fingerprint recognition technology and under-screen fingerprint recognition technology have become increasingly perfect. More importantly, for smartphones, it is difficult for fingerprint chip recognition itself to bring too high added value. The small market size and fierce competition are the cruel facts faced by fingerprint chips. In this context, fingerprint chip manufacturers have entered a price war. In 2017, Feingel even launched a $1 fingerprint identification chip. Maintaining high gross profit margins has naturally become the problem.

On the other hand, is the shrinking smartphone market. Although fingerprint recognition is also used in various products such as computers and smart door locks, smart phones are currently the most widely used field. Global mobile phone sales have been declining since peaking in 2017 (1.465 billion units). According to a report by market research firm Strategy Analytics, global smartphone shipments in the second quarter of this year were 290 million units, down 7% from the same period last year. The global mobile phone market declined for the fourth consecutive quarter. The decline in mobile phone shipments will inevitably lead to a decrease in demand for the upstream fingerprint identification chips, which will naturally put more pressure on the fingerprint chip industry chain.

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In general, today’s fingerprint recognition chip market is far less glorious than it once was.

TWS chip: on the road to change

AirPods debuted for the first time in 2016. Although they were easily lost by many users at the time, consumers’ enthusiasm for purchasing remained undiminished. AirPods became Apple’s fastest-growing product line. In 2019, Apple even won 71% of the global wireless earphone market. income.

The success of AirPods has attracted major mobile phone manufacturers to join and launch lower-priced TWS earphones to penetrate the sinking market. According to the data of Counterpoint Research, a well-known market research organization, from 2016 to 2020, the global TWS headset shipments surged 25 times in five years, and the growth rate reached its peak in 2019.

With the continuous increase in the penetration rate of TWS headsets, the market size of the main control chip of TWS headsets has also continued to increase. The entry of a large number of suppliers has brought about the start of a “price war”. In 2019, Jerry and Lanxun’s TWS The unit price of the Bluetooth headset chip once fell below two yuan. After experiencing price “involution”, TWS chip manufacturers ushered in a new round of competition in 2022.

The fuse was the rumors of AirPods cutting orders. In fact, in 2021, the growth rate of AirPods shipments has dropped to 24%. At the beginning of this year, Nikkei Asia broke the news that Apple’s AirPods headset orders are expected to decrease throughout the year. More than 10 million units, and then Tianfeng International analyst Guo Mingji tweeted that the AirPods orders in the second and third quarters of 2022 have been cut by more than 30%.

Source: Ming-Chi Kuo Twitter

Although Goertek and Luxshare responded to the rumors of cutting orders and said that production and operation were normal, in any case, the saturation of the TWS headset market seems to be a fact. In this context, TWS chip manufacturers urgently need to open up new tracks and find new ones. market growth. According to the article “TWS Bluetooth Chip Manufacturers Compete for New Arenas”, from the perspective of the manufacturers’ layout, the IoT and smart wearable markets may become a new force.

At present, Hengxuan Technology, Jerry Technology, Action Core Technology, Zhongke Lanxun, Realtek Semiconductor, Dafa Technology, Telink Microelectronics and other manufacturers have all expanded new tracks, and from Hengxuan Technology and Jerry Technology two Judging from the released IoT chips, although the application fields are different, high integration will be a major direction of the “roll” of IoT chips.

In the future, we will wait and see whether TWS manufacturers can continue to be brilliant on the new track.

VCSELs: From Cell Phones to Cars

As mentioned above, in 2017, Apple abandoned fingerprint recognition and switched to Face ID, which opened the curtain of the “face brushing era”. As the first model equipped with Face ID technology, the ToF proximity sensor, flood illuminator, and dot matrix projector of iPhone X all use the same core device, which is VCSEL. It has to be said that the emergence of Apple’s Face ID has promoted the rapid penetration of VCSELs into the consumer market.

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Compared with EEL (edge ​​emitter) and LED light sources, VCSELs have unique advantages, such as higher power, better directivity, best temperature stability, low operating current, simple heat dissipation device, and relatively low power consumption. In 2018, Huawei’s Mate 20 Pro and Huawei Mate 20 RS Porsche both supported 3D face unlocking. Since then, Xiaomi, OPPO, and Samsung have also introduced VCSELs to their flagship models. Huawei even invested in Zonghui Xinguang and Changguang Huaxin. and many other VCSEL innovative companies.

With the addition of many smartphone manufacturers, mobile and consumer became the largest market for VCSELs in 2018, reaching US$440 million. Although the emergence of the subsequent under-screen fingerprint technology has prevented VCSEL from gaining an absolute share in the mobile phone market, it does not prevent VCSEL from entering the markets of TWS headsets, sweeping robots, data centers, and smart cars. Among them, smart cars can be said to be the most popular.

Judging from the development trend of automobiles in recent years, intelligence + electrification has become the general trend. Vehicle LiDAR has gradually become an essential sensor for automatic driving, while VCSEL used for LiDAR belongs to the old technology upgraded for new applications. VCSEL lidar not only simplifies the optical design and system architecture, the power conversion efficiency is much higher than that of similar single-junction, but also has the function of “recognition”. Continuously generate 3D environment maps without blind spots.

Ajit Paranjpe, vice president and chief technology officer of MOCVD equipment supplier Veeco, said: “VCSEL technology has received significant attention and improvement with the rise of new applications. VCSEL will also usher in higher VCSELs when using LiDAR with VCSEL arrays to advance autonomous driving. Power-demanding automotive application opportunities, which require the use of larger VCSEL arrays.” There is no doubt that as autonomous driving technology develops, the role of VCSELs in lidar will further increase.

In addition to changes in the application market, the VCSEL ecosystem has also undergone tremendous changes since 2017. According to Yole, in 2017, the VCSEL market was mainly dominated by Lumentum oligopoly. Now, with the acquisition of Finisar by Coherent (formerly II-VI), Coherent has become a manufacturer that can compete with Lumentum, and the VCSEL market structure has also changed from oligopoly to Ssangyong Competing for hegemony, at present, Lumentum and Coherent have occupied 80% of the VCSEL market.

Source: Yole

From mobile phones to automobiles, from oligopoly to double dragon hegemony, the changes of VCSEL in the past five years are obvious to all. Yole predicts that starting from 2023, the data communication market may re-lead and dominate the VCSEL market in the next five years, And in 2027, the VCSEL revenue of data communication is expected to reach $2.1B.

Source: Yole

In the future, will VCSELs “show their talents” in the automotive market to make up for the regrets of the mobile phone market? Or will it be dominated by the data communications market? This still takes time to prove.

UWB chip: detonating the future?

UWB technology (Ultra Wideband, ultra-wideband technology), relies on the U1 chip of the iPhone 11 in 2019 to come to the front, and in 2021, it will be pushed to the upsurge by Apple’s “anti-lost artifact” AirTag. At the 2019 conference, Apple’s marketing director Phil Schiller described the U1 chip as “using UWB technology to achieve spatial awareness”, which can accurately locate other Apple devices also equipped with the U1 chip. Thanks to the blessing of the U1 chip, when you use the Apple mobile phone’s AirDrop (AirDrop) to share files, just point the phone to someone else’s iPhone, and the system will prioritize and identify it, enabling faster file transfer.

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In fact, before Apple, the application of UWB technology in the industrial and commercial fields has been very mature, and Apple’s vigorous publicity has gradually made it well-known in the field of consumer electronics. After Apple, Samsung and “Huami OV” and other mobile phone manufacturers have kept up. In 2020, the Samsung Note20 series will add UWB ultra-wideband technology to replace the previous WLAN direct connection. In the same year, Xiaomi released the “One Finger Connected” Xiaomi UWB technology. Benefiting from the news, as of the close of trading on October 12, 2020, the Hong Kong stock price of Xiaomi Group rose by 8.35%, which fully shows that the market is optimistic about the prospects of UWB technology.

Source: Xiaomi

Compared with mainstream positioning technologies such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and RFID, UWB technology has the advantages of high positioning accuracy, data transmission, high security, and strong anti-interference ability. Especially in terms of positioning accuracy, UWB can even achieve decimeter or even Centimeter-level positioning accuracy. With the characteristics of precise positioning, UWB technology avoids the outdoor positioning market of “fighting with gods” and occupies a place in the indoor positioning track.

From the perspective of market prospects, market analysis agency TechnoSystems Research “2021 Ultra-Broadband Market Analysis” report data shows that global UWB shipments are expected to reach more than 200 million units in 2021, and more than 1.2 billion units by 2027. The time has increased by 5 times, which also shows that UWB technology is in a period of rapid development. The report estimates that smartphones will be the largest application market for UWB in 2027, followed by automotive, smart home devices, wearables, consumer tags and RTLS B2B.

Jessica Zhou, senior sales manager of Qorvo’s UWB business unit, pointed out that the functions related to mobile phones are the real applications of UWB, and the most just-needed function is to use the mobile phone as a digital key to realize the safe unlocking of the car, which is realized by the UWB technology with the mobile phone A just-in-time application. From this point of view, mobile phones and automobiles are expected to become the largest potential market for UWB technology.

In order to meet the huge market dividends in the future, chip giants such as Qorvo, NXP, BeSpoon, Ubisense, 3db/Renesas have all entered the game. Compared with fingerprint recognition, TWS, and VCSEL, although UWB technology faces development bottlenecks such as high price, immature software ecology, and too single chip solution, it is still a “popular fried chicken”. However, what we need to consider is that once UWB has passed the development period and the technology has gradually stabilized, will it still be so popular? How should manufacturers take precautions?

On the whole, with the support of top-notch like Apple, emerging chip technologies will usher in a development dividend period of at least 5 years. In the follow-up, as the technology develops and matures, the competitive pressure it faces will gradually increase, and chip manufacturers also need to Forge new directions. But in fact, no matter what chip manufacturer wants to achieve long-term profitability, it is impossible to rely on only one business line. Only multi-level and multi-dimensional continuous expansion is the last word.