There is nothing that can stop CMOS image sensor sales from breaking more annual records through 2021, according to market research firm IC Insights.

After rising 9% in 2017 to about $11.5 billion—its seventh straight record high—global CMOS image sensors sales are expected to increase by a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 8.7% to $15.9 billion in 2021 from the current record high of $10.5 billion set in 2016, based on the five-year forecast in IC Insight's OSD Report.

IC-Insights_CMOS-sensor-sales_01 (cr) Figure 1: CMOS image sensor growth continues into next decade. (Source: IC Insights)

After strong growth from the first wave of digital cameras and camera-equipped cellphones, image sensor sales levelled off in the second half of the last decade. However, another round of strong growth has begun in CMOS image sensors for new embedded cameras and digital imaging applications in automotive, medical, machine vision, security, wearable systems, virtual and augmented reality applications, as well as user-recognition interfaces.

Competition among CMOS image sensor suppliers is heating up for new three-dimensional sensing capability using time-of-flight (ToF) technology and other techniques for 3D imaging and distance measurements. CMOS technology has progressed to the point of supporting integration of ToF functions into small chip modules and potentially down to a single die. Sony, Samsung, OmniVision, ON Semiconductor, STMicroelectronics and others have rolled out and developed 3D image sensors. Infineon has also jumped into the image sensor arena with a 3D offering that is built in ToF-optimised CMOS technology.

Automotive systems are forecast to be the fastest growing application for CMOS image sensors, rising by a CAGR of 48% to $2.3 billion in 2021 or 14% of the market’s total sales that year, according to IC Insights analysts. Meanwhile, CMOS image sensor sales for cameras in cellphones are forecast to grow by a CAGR of just 2% to $7.6 billion in 2021, or about 47% of the market total versus 67% in 2016 ($7.0 billion). Smartphone applications are getting a lift from dual-camera systems that enable a new depth-of-field effect, which focuses on close-in subjects while blurring backgrounds—similar to the capabilities of high-quality single-lens reflex cameras.