Apples iPhone and iPad have kicked off a booming business in touch-screen displays that will see shipments of touch controller integrated circuits (ICs) triple from 2010 to 2015, according to market research firm IHS iSuppli.
In a report issued March 28, the analyst at IHS iSuppli said that shipments of touch controller ICs will grow from the 865 million units in 2010 to 2.4 billion in 2015. In 2012, the analysts expect shipped units to hit 1.7 billion, a 28 percent jump over 2011. The market will see double-digit growth before leveling off a bit, they said.
Touch-screens can be found in a rapidly growing number of devices, from tablet and smartphonesnot only from Apple but also from Samsung, HTC and others who build devices for Googles Android operating systemto e-readers from the likes of Amazon and Barnes & Noble, all-in-one PCs, portable navigation devices and flat-panel TVs and monitors, according to IHS iSuppli. However, all of that can be traced back to Apples introduction five years ago of the first iPhone, according to Randy Lawson, principal analyst for display and consumer electronics at IHS iSuppli.
The expansion in touch controller IC shipments is due to the growing number of devices that employ touch technology, Lawson said in a statement. Apple almost single-handedly ignited the market for touch in 2007 when it introduced the iPhone, which featured a multi-touch screen based on a projected capacitive touch technology. Since the appearance of the iPhone, many other smartphone manufacturers have jumped on the bandwagon by deploying sophisticated touch sensors for their products.
Apple continues to lead the parade. The latest example is the iPad 3. Apple officials said the company sold about 3 million new iPads the first weekend of release, and based on this estimate, Gene Munster, an analyst with Piper Jaffray, said March 20 that the company could sell as many as 66 million this year.
By 2015, the iPad market could grow to about 176 million units, Munster wrote in his report.
Overall, the number of devices and appliances using touch-screen technology will continue to grow rapidly as more products adopt the feature, the analysts said. In 2010, 514.9 million devices and appliances used some form of touch controller IC; that number will hit 1.06 billion this year, according to IHS iSuppli.
The analysts noted that the number of shipments of touch controller ICs is more than the number of touch-screen-equipped mobile devices because some devicessuch as tabletsuse more than one IC in each product. There also can be low manufacturing yields in advanced touch-screen modules, they said.
The dominant implementation of the touch-screen market is the projected capacitive touch screens used in such devices as Apple products, according to IHS iSuppli. They accounted for 54 percent of the touch market in 2011, and should remain there in the coming years, followed by such technologies as infrared, optical and resistive.
However, while shipments soar, revenues in the space are growing less quickly, the analysts said. Touch controller IC revenues in 2012 will be about $1.5 billion, a 15 percent jump over the $1.3 billion in 2011, according to IHS iSuppli. Revenues should peak in 2014, at $1.6 billion, and then start to decline.
Such issues as declining average selling prices (ASPs), the falling number of touch ICs being used per panel in medium-sized applications, and the growing market pressure from integrated solutions from some companies are contributing to the slower revenue growth. ASPs should drop by about 12 percent per year through 2015, the analysts said. In addition, the number of touch controller ICs used in tablets that are larger than seven inches also will drop from three or more to only one in many cases.
Atmel, Cypress Semiconductor and Synaptics were the market leaders, with a total of about 60 percent share. However, competition is increasing, IHS iSuppli said. Most of the competition is coming from Asian makers of display driver ICs, including Novatek Microelectronics and Himax Technologies of Taiwan, and Solomon Systech International of Hong Kong.
Many of these Asian firms are developing their own touch IC offerings, with the idea of eventually integrating touch capabilities into existing single-chip driver ICs in mobile handsets and liquid crystal displays smaller than 5 inches for general mobile consumer electronics devices.