What you need to know
- Sony provides iPhone cameras.
- It already pushes its production lines 24 hours each day.
- But the company says it still can't meet demand.
Sony makes the cameras that go into Apple's iPhones and despite running its production lines all day it says it still can't make them quickly enough.
Terushi Shimizu, the head of Sony's semiconductor unit [said that] the electronics giant is more than doubling its capital spending on the business to 280 billion yen ($2.6 billion) this fiscal year and is also building a new plant in Nagasaki that will come online in April 2021.
'Judging by the way things are going, even after all that investment in expanding capacity, it might still not be enough,' Shimizu said in an interview at the Tokyo headquarters. 'We are having to apologize to customers because we just can't make enough.'
This is the second year running that Sony has had to keep its production lines ticking over through the holidays in an attempt to catch up with demand. And with so many phones now using more than one camera that demand is constantly increasing despite the smartphone market as a whole slowing.
That's why even as smartphone market growth plateaus, Sony's sales of image sensors continue to soar.
'The camera has become the biggest differentiator for smartphone brands and everyone wants their social media pictures and videos to look nice,' said Masahiro Wakasugi, an analyst with Bloomberg Intelligence. 'Sony is riding that wave of demand very well.'
Semiconductors are now Sony's most profitable business after the PlayStation.
We've heard plenty about Apple using time-of-flight (ToF) technology in future iPhones, with 2020 likely to be the year it happens. And Sony will be there to help.
Sony is now looking to a new generation of sensors that can see the world in three dimensions. The company uses a method called time of flight that sends out invisible laser pulses and measures how long they take to bounce back to create detailed depth models. This helps mobile cameras create better portrait photos by more precisely selecting the background to blur out, and it can also be applied in mobile games, where virtual characters can be shown realistically interacting with real-world environments. If used on the front of the phone, TOF sensors allow for hand gestures and facial motion capture for animated avatars.
2020 will be a big year for Sony and Apple. It remains to be seen whether either can get their production acts together in time for September's likely launch window.