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Sony Joins Hands with Qualcomm to Keep Samsung in Check in Image Sensor Market

Samsung Electronics has increased its share of the global image sensors market.

Sony, the world’s No. 1 manufacturer of image sensors, has joined forces with Qualcomm and TSMC to control Samsung Electronics as it expands its market share.

Sony and Qualcomm plan to establish a joint camera research lab in San Diego, United States. San Diego is home to Qualcomm’s corporate headquarters. The two companies plan to develop high-performance cameras based on Qualcomm’s mobile application processor (AP) Snapdragon and Sony’s image sensors. In particular, Sony plans to focus its efforts on developing image sensors optimized for Snapdragon chips.

Sony forged a manufacturing alliance with TSMC, the world’s largest foundry company. Sony and TSMC decided to invest $500 million and $7 billion respectively in a foundry to be built in Kumamoto Prefecture, Japan. TSMC plans to open ground for the factory in 2022 and start mass production in 2024. TSMC’s Japanese plant will mainly produce semiconductors from 22 to 28 nanometers.

Sony plans to keep Samsung in check. According to market research firm Strategy Analysis (SA), Sony accounted for 46 percent of the global image sensor market in 2020, followed by Samsung Electronics at 29 percent. The market share gap between the two companies narrowed significantly from over 50 percentage points in 2018 to 17 percentage points in 2020.

Samsung Electronics has also partnered with Taiwanese UMC, the world’s third largest foundry company, to further narrow the market share gap. Samsung Electronics manufactures image sensors at its Hwaseong factory in Gyeonggi province, but decided to outsource some of the production to UMC because supply did not meet demand. UMC is building a factory in Nanke, Taiwan, where it plans to mass-produce Samsung image sensors from 2023.

“Demand for image sensors is increasing not only in the mobile device sector, but also in the automotive industry,” said an industry insider. “The competition between Sony and Samsung is expected to increase over time.”

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