Sony makes $20 every time an iPhone 6 is sold, is by far the largest camera sensor supplier in the world

Sony makes $20 every time an iPhone 6 is sold, is by far the largest camera sensor supplier in the world
Sony's smartphone division may be struggling to remain relevant, but another business unit of the company is actually in its heyday: the imaging department.

A lengthy Wall Street Journal article, citing a study by Techno Systems Research, makes it clear that Sony isn't just moving a healthy amount of image sensors, specifically ones for smartphones, but it's actually the market leader — by a long shot. According to the findings, Sony held the whopping 40% of the entire camera sensors market in 2014, trailed by US, California-based OmniVision (15.7%) and South Korea's Samsung (15.2%). Even combined, the two runner-ups apparently move less volume than Sony. 

That's not surprising, seeing how a Sony-made image sensor can be found in essentially every high-end smartphone on the market. In fact, the iPhone 6 uses two of them — one on the front, and on the back — and even Samsung's Galaxy S6 was found to be making use of both its own sensors, and a Sony IMX240. Analysts say that Sony makes some $20 on every iPhone 6 sold right now, which is not at all a trivial sum — after all, Apple sold over 61 million iPhones in the second quarter, many of which likely the iPhone 6 model.

Sony has at least considered the idea of letting its TV or smartphone businesses go (as it did with it personal computers division recently), and while nothing is yet official, the company did give its phone unit a 'tier 3' priority, which is the lowest possible, in its latest strategy shift in February. The imaging business, on the other hand, is a first priority, and that's not surprising — the company is, reportedly, unable to meet rising demand, especially from China, and is committing over a billion dollars in investments in the unit. Given how Sony's debt rating was cut to dangerously low levels by Standard & Poor's Rating Services last year, the situation begs the question: Will there be any money left to invest in making better phones?

source: Wall Street Journal (paywall)

Related phones

iPhone 6
  • Display 4.7" 750 x 1334 pixels
  • Camera 8 MP / 1.2 MP front
  • Processor Apple A8, Dual-core, 1400 MHz
  • Storage 128 GB
  • Battery 1810 mAh(14h 3G talk time)

FEATURED VIDEO

67 Comments

1. kobainez

Posts: 454; Member since: Apr 13, 2012

At least sony makes profit out of two largest smartphone makers

26. itsdeepak4u2000

Posts: 3718; Member since: Nov 03, 2012

Sony sensors are quite famous, from Chinese phones to Apple / Samsung. They should make more profit from Apple as Apple earns big money. IMX240 is superb though.

29. KENTOZ

Posts: 86; Member since: Apr 03, 2015

How about Sony mobile division???

41. timetophone

Posts: 14; Member since: Feb 25, 2015

Sony's big problem is marketing--even the Wall Street Journal and gadget blog Gizmodo say this. They both say that Sony makes great phones. Wall Street J looked at all the reviews and said "Sony's smartphones have been getting rave reviews. Too bad no one knows about them." They then go on to mention all of the features--great battery life, Playstation integration, waterproofing, etc.--but that Sony simply doesn't market its stuff. Or make it available on carriers. I'm in the US, and I've never seen a Sony television ad, but I see Samsung ads every single day. With 21-MP camera, 4K video, waterproofing, Playstation integration, hi-res audio, and battery life longer than iPhone 6 or Galaxy S6, Sony Xperia should be doing a lot better, but they're not. It's their marketing.

46. Djz89

Posts: 431; Member since: Aug 25, 2014

In norway and Scandinavia sony phones actually are quite popular, and i see alot of people using them. To bad that market basically is worthless compared to the rest of the world.

49. techperson211

Posts: 1280; Member since: Feb 27, 2014

@kentoz still trolling in every Sony article this is about their sensors not their mobile division.

51. dimas

Posts: 3261; Member since: Jul 22, 2014

Even if Sony mobile division dies, they're still going to make money out of their camera and audio products.

30. joey_sfb

Posts: 6794; Member since: Mar 29, 2012

Yes! I am a PlayStation fan. So I am happy for Sony. If only Sony phone has thinner border I would have bought them. Every time i pick up their tablet or phone, I just can't get over their thick border. Screen to body ratio is very important to me.

40. timetophone

Posts: 14; Member since: Feb 25, 2015

A review I just read said that although the Z4 tablet has a plentiful bezel, this is offset by the fact that it doesn't seem to weigh anything at all, as well as the thin-ness (front to back). I handled one at a Sony store and was surprised by its thin-ness--it was like picking up a clipboard! About the bezel, it might not be too bad to have a wide one with a large tablet since you might be holding it with two hands. I actually wish Sony would make a Playstation Tablet. Vita games and PS4 game streaming, in a tablet. I am sure it'd be a winner. Oh, didn't realize that we can't post links. So, just look up the article "Hands-on: Sony's gorgeous Xperia Z4 Tablet is exactly why it shouldn't stop making mobile devices" by Florence Ion

54. joey_sfb

Posts: 6794; Member since: Mar 29, 2012

That's why i end up with Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4 LTE and its my daily driver. The Tab is not only light but also has a screen to body ratio of 76%

31. waddup121 unregistered

$ony. Cha ching!

47. joonlin

Posts: 11; Member since: Feb 26, 2014

If Sony did not made improvement in coming years, surely Samsung will overtake Sony

50. dimas

Posts: 3261; Member since: Jul 22, 2014

Just like Ericsson who still makes money out of technology patents. You can be away from the spotlight and people can mock their phone sales but they're still counting more money than the general public lol.

66. unixpuppet

Posts: 12; Member since: Jun 30, 2016

Yes, Sony is doing a lot better than any Andriod phones. Including the game industry. Yes, the PC games have come a long well, but PS 4 is expected to sell 60 Million units by the year 2017. And now 40 million units are shipped out (2016). Plus, now Sony Pictures are coming out new movies with the 2.8 billion dollars USD. Which include Sony Music and electronic devices, Sony have risen 667% in 2016.

2. TyrionLannister unregistered

With the badass IMX230 ahead, the future seems bright for Sony sensors.

32. BruceLeeRoyJenkins

Posts: 51; Member since: Feb 27, 2015

If only Sony can couple a great software with their superb hardware...

43. timetophone

Posts: 14; Member since: Feb 25, 2015

I just wish they'd make more of their phones available on more carriers here in the US. For some reason, only the Z3 is available in the US, and only on Verizon and T-Mobile. The Compact version isn't even available. Then they wonder why they can't sell phones.

42. timetophone

Posts: 14; Member since: Feb 25, 2015

Sony has a new sensor that will be able to record 6K video at 240 frames per second and 2K video at 16,000 fps. But the icing on the cake is its Active Color Sampling technology. In conventional sensors, there are pixels for red, green and blue separately. But in Sony's new sensor, each pixel can sample all three colors. This means it only needs 1/3 the pixels to output the same resolution. With this technology, with the same number of pixels as a conventional sensor, Sony's sensor will be able to output 3X the resolution. So you're right--the future seems bright for Sony sensors!

44. TyrionLannister unregistered

Sensor has no relation with video. If the SoC doesn't support it, then it's useless. There is no SoC currently except tegra X1 that even supports 4K@60fps, and X1 is a tablet chip. Plus, I'm sure you are making that up. And in conventional sensors, one pixel can sample all 3 colors.

59. timetophone

Posts: 14; Member since: Feb 25, 2015

Nope. Look things up, before telling people they are making it up. A number of sites--Sonyalpharumors, Image-Sensors-World, SLRlounge and Nofilmschool--have reported on this. Sonyalpharumors says "The Sony sensor has the worlds first sensor capable of capturing the full color spectrum info in one single pixel...the sensor is also capable of Global Shutter and 2K recording at crazy 16,000 frames per second." Nofilmschool, which shares info on all things film including latest technology, says the new sensor "will be able to record 6K video at up to 240fps and 2K video at an astounding 16,000fps. Instead of using the traditional bayer method of color interpolation, where there are individual pixels for the red, green, and blue channels, the new sensor has pixels that can sample each of the three colors using a technology called Active Pixel Color Sampling.. Essentially this means that the new sensors only need 1/3 of the pixels in order to output the same resolution." SLRlounge says "this new Sony Active-Pixel Color Sampling sensor allows for each individual pixel to record red, green or blue. This means no need for dedicated color layers (Foveon), and no need for interpolating (Bayer)." This is a new sensor and there are no products that support it, so you are right in that. But the tech has been announced, so even if the reports are inaccurate, it is wrong to conclude I made it up. Won't read further replies since I'm sure you'll say the sites are made up.

63. james2841

Posts: 167; Member since: Dec 10, 2014

What is the name of it? It should be used in "real" slow motion cameras that are dedicated to slow motion.

3. shiftt

Posts: 333; Member since: May 03, 2015

Sony has good camera sensors but their camera on the Z series is effy. Oh the questions.. But nice to see Sony making a profit.... Even if they can't meet the demand.

4. gaming64 unregistered

Its just software issues. I hope they would fix that on the Z5

23. nanozander

Posts: 97; Member since: Oct 19, 2011

TBH i still think it's more of a lens issue. Images are soft all round even at the center. Image processing seems to handle the noise at stupid high ISOs.

36. FaisalWibowo11

Posts: 166; Member since: Aug 12, 2013

You are right about the lens issue. But it ain't because of bad quality but because of the very wide FoV (angle). The FoV is just too wide for the sensor too handle. So many people blamed aggresive noise reduction but people seem to forget the after effects of NR which is oil painted effect. And.. There are actually more cameraphones that has more pronounced painting effect than xperia phones such as Let's say LG G3, iphone 6 & 6+, Galaxy S5 & Note 4, and even Lumia 930. I played quite often to flickr groups to prove this I think the reason why Xperia cameras produced less details than competitors such as Note 4 (in daylight especially) is because Xperia cameras have always use very wide angle 25-27mm lens: When you have wide angle lens, you capture much more in one scene but the image perspective is very zoomed out and therefore the detail resolving power is divided because the sensor has to deal with many objects on one scene. Note 4 & S5 uses very narrow 31mm lens, you get less objects in one scene but the image perspective is zoomed in and you get more details because the sensor doesn't have to deal with many objects in one scene. As a matter of fact I have my own experience to prove this: - I did a outdoor landscape comparison of my Z2 and my mom's Xperia T2 Ultra. I used full 20.7MP on Z2 and full 12.8MP on T2 Ultra. Z2 has 27mm lens and T2 has 30 or 31mm lens. In terms of detail, T2 ultra matched Z2 even though it has resolution difference of nearly 8 million pixels! Image processing wise, Z2 is quite on the sharpening side while T2's NR is stronger. But why is T2's detail is matching Z2? Because of the lens FoV that I talked about earlier. - I recently bought a Z3 and just compared it's camera against Z2. And Z2 is better in every ISO range. Processing wise, both are the same.. But again, Z3's very wide 25mm is just too much for a 1/2.3" sized sensor. The concept is similar to the difference of putting let's say Full HD resoultion on 5" screen and 6" screen. The 5" screen with have more pixels so the screen is sharper! See this: my personal camera comparisonhttps://drive.google.com/folder/d/0B2xbzy4iULR-UWRIM1VfTFlrcjA/edit And my flickr photostream:https://www.flickr.com/photos/125751132@N08/

38. CamaroSS

Posts: 173; Member since: Jul 24, 2012

That's a very good analysis. I have the exact same experience from my Z3 & Z2. Like you said, z2 captures narrower image with sharper details & Z3 does the opposite. Quite an interesting trade-off.

39. CamaroSS

Posts: 173; Member since: Jul 24, 2012

DXO scores for Z2 & Z3 for texture only z2; Texture -> 84 z3: Texture -> 75

28. RandomUsername

Posts: 808; Member since: Oct 29, 2013

Its just software issues. I hope they would fix that on the Z10.

6. jaytai0106

Posts: 1888; Member since: Mar 30, 2011

The sensors on Z series are amazing, but Sony's camera app is just.... plain... if you know how to take a good picture manually with it, you'll get great result. Otherwise you will get an average pictures.

19. buccob

Posts: 2949; Member since: Jun 19, 2012

exactly this... Sometimes when doing my comparisons, Superior Auto actually impresses, but not all the time... I notice that for my Z3C in sunny days it is actually more accurate to take pictures with White Balance set to "Cloudy" because normally the pictures in auto are a bit too cold (not just because of the screen calibration), so the white balance in cloudy makes them warmer in that situation. I haven't been able to compare it to the S6 yet, but against any other in Low Light (without flash), setting it to High Sensitivity ISO it has no match. Of course this doesn't compare to being able to take long exposures like the G4... but having the option to go up to ISO12800 for handheld-flashless-lowlight pictures is awesome

Latest Stories

This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. You can order presentation-ready copies for distribution to your colleagues, clients or customers at https://www.parsintl.com/phonearena or use the Reprints & Permissions tool that appears at the bottom of each web page. Visit https://www.parsintl.com/ for samples and additional information.