Opportunities for Sapphire – A New Look at Smartphones, Tablets and Even Smartwatches

This week, we’ll take a look at smartphones, tablets and smartwatches and the market opportunity that these consumer devices present for sapphire. Sapphire can be used in a number of ways in them ranging from LEDs for the backlighting display and LEDs for the camera flash to sapphire material for use camera lens covers and home button covers. There’s even speculation that they could be used for front cover plates in smartphones.

Recently, smartwatches and “wearables” have become “fashionable” so we’ll take a look at sapphire in smartwatches too. The infographic in this post points to the number of ways that sapphire could be used in smartphones and tablets.

Opportunities for Sapphire: Smartphones and Tablets

Opportunities for Sapphire: Smartphones and Tablets

Let’s take a closer look at the market for smartphones and tablets.  Backlighting has been a very fertile area for LEDs. The market penetration of LEDs in backlighting displays for mobile phones, tablets, LED camera flash and keyboards is nearly 100 percent. But, let’s look at the numbers.

First, 2013 was a groundbreaking year for smartphones. According to market research firm Gartner, smartphone sales surpassed feature phone sales for the first time with smartphones accounting for 53.6% of overall mobile phone sales for the year.  Overall, Gartner says that 968 million smartphone device units out of a total of 1.8 billion mobiles were sold in 2013. Given that there’s an opportunity to sell sapphire for multiple uses in each smart phone, that’s quite a bit of sapphire. And, even feature phones present an opportunity for sapphire in backlighting, camera flashes and camera lens covers.

In tablets, the opportunity for sapphire is in the same applications, but with a twist. Backlighting is a good opportunity with even more display real estate that larger tablet screens represent.  Many tablets also feature a front facing camera and a back facing camera, doubling the opportunity for camera flashes and protective camera lens covers. According to Gartner, worldwide sales of tablets to end users reached 195.4 million units in 2013. Again, that’s a good opportunity for sapphire.

Wearables like smartwatches are an emerging market and a new opportunity for sapphire. As a traditional cover for watches, sapphire is a natural cover for smartwatches as vendors like Samsung, Omate and the Wellograph Wellness Watch already use sapphire covers in their smart watches. JP Morgan estimates that the smartwatch market size could reach US$26 billion by 2018. This is up from less than US $1 billion in 2013. Once again, that’s a good opportunity for sapphire.

For Further Reading

Tech Crunch, Gartner: Smartphone Sales Finally Beat Out Dumb Phone Sales Globally In 2013, With 968M Units Sold, http://techcrunch.com/2014/02/13/smartphones-outsell-dumb-phones-globally/

Gartner, Gartner Says Worldwide Tablet Sales Grew 68 Percent in 2013, With Android Capturing 62 Percent of the Market,  http://www.gartner.com/newsroom/id/2674215

CNet, Wellograph’s sleek new Sapphire Wellness Watch sparkles with style at CES 2014 (hands-on)

http://reviews.cnet.com/watches-and-wrist-devices/sapphire-wellness-watch/4505-3512_7-35833913.html

The Smart Watch Review, Apple Might Have Big Plans for Sapphire and its iWatch, http://www.thesmartwatchreview.com/apple-might-have-big-plans-for-sapphire-and-its-iwatch/

JP Morgan, Smartwatch Market, https://markets.jpmorgan.com/research/email/-pefp7bj/GPS-1320515-0

General Lighting Brightens Up with LEDs

Clearlysapphire.com continues to follow the growth of LED lighting as well as sapphire and alternative substrates. This week, we’ll focus on a new report from Yole Developpement, a research firm that covers LEDs and the semiconductor industry.  Yole recently reported that the packaged LED market will grow from $13.9 billion in 2013 to $16 billion by 2018, driven mainly by general lighting and completed by display applications.  The report, Status of the LED Industry, details how LED-based general lighting has surpassed all other applications, representing nearly 39 percent of total revenue of packaged LEDs In 2012.

2013 packaged LED revenue by application.  The total market size is nearly $13B. (Source: Status of the LED Industry report, Yole Developpement, September 2013)

2013 packaged LED revenue by application. The total market size is nearly $13B. (Source: Status of the LED Industry report, Yole Developpement, September 2013)

Costs need to continue to drop to keep LED-based lighting’s momentum in the general lighting market according to the report’s author, Pars Mukish, market and technology analyst, LED for Yole Developpement.  He commented, “Cost represents the main barrier LEDs must overcome to fully compete with incumbent technologies.  Since 2010, the price of packaged LEDs have sharply decreased, which has had the consequence of decreasing the price of LED-based lighting products.”

Mukish notes that in order to maintain growth, the industry needs to continue reducing pricing.  He pointed out that while LED still has some potential for cost reduction, widespread adoption will require manufacturers to reduce costs on all components of the system such as drivers, heat sink, and PCB.

Yole also updates their reporting on the use of alternative substrates in the LED market.  This situation hasn’t changed since we last covered alternatives in these posts:  Clearlysapphire.com, Alternative Substrates – Dimming the Hype, http://blog.clearlysapphire.com/?p=496 and Clearlysapphire.com, Alternative Substrates for LEDs, http://blog.clearlysapphire.com/?p=293.

According to Yole, companies working on alternatives such as silicon and GaN still face major obstacles.  Mukish says the benefit of GaN-on-silicon LEDs depends on decreasing manufacturing cost by using cheaper 8 inch silicon substrates that can leverage fully depreciated and highly automated CMOS fabs. However, he maintains that GaN-on-silicon LEDs still suffer from low manufacturing yields and full compatibility with CMOS fab still needs to be achieved.  He added that GaN-on-GaN LEDs benefit from a lower defect density in the epitaxial layers, allowing the device to be driven at higher current levels and to use a lower number of LED devices per system.   However, he said that GaN-on-GaN LEDs suffer from low GaN substrate availability and high costs.

For Further Reading

iMicronews, Sample, State of LED Industry, SLI report,  http://www.i-micronews.com/upload/Rapports/SLI%20Sample.pdf

Compound Semiconductor, Yole: Inexpensive LED Solutions Pushing Adoption In General Lighting, http://www.compoundsemiconductor.net/csc/detail-news/id/19736834/name/Yole:-Inexpensive-LED-solutions-pushing-adoption-in-general-lighting.html

Novus Light Today, Yole Releases Status of LED Industry Report, http://www.novuslight.com/yole-releases-status-of-led-industry-report_N1675.html

 

LED Lighting Growth Update

This week, LED lighting market research firm Strategies Unlimited announced some very positive research about LED lighting as well as the LED industry as a whole.  Strategies Unlimited measured the LED component revenue for lighting applications and noted that it reached $3.11 billion in 2012, just beating out the large area display backlight segment at $3.06 billion for top LED application.

This is good news for sapphire, as the substrate for more than 80 percent of the world’s LEDs. The more demand for LEDs and LED lighting, the greater demand for sapphire. Examining lighting further, Strategies Unlimited said that the total illumination market for 2012 is estimated at $14.52 billion.  LED lighting, including LED replacement lamps and luminaires, is estimated at $11.72 billion—an increase of 26% between 2011 and 2012—and it is forecast to grow at a CAGR of 12% over 2012-2017.

Another interesting area of growth is the automotive market.  Beyond the Audi A8s with their signature eyebrow LED headlights, LEDs are catching on with other auto makers.  Strategies Unlimited puts the total market for LEDs in the automotive segment at $1.4 billion in 2012 and estimates that it will grow to $2.1 billion in 2017. Where’s the growth?  The firm says the number of cars with LED headlights nearly doubled in 2012.  LED daytime running lights also contributed to the growth.

Here’s a look at how LED applications break out according to Strategies Unlimited:

Strategies Unlimited, Worldwide LED Revenue Forecast by Market Segment (Source: Solid State Technology)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Further Reading

Strategies Unlimited, WORLDWIDE LED COMPONENT MARKET GROWS 9% WITH LIGHTING RANKING FIRST AMONG ALL APPLICATION SEGMENTS,ACCORDING TO STRATEGIES UNLIMITED, http://www.strategies-u.com/articles/2013/02/worldwide-led-component-market-grew-9–to–13-7-billion-with-lig.html

Solid State Technology, Worldwide LED component market grows 9% with lighting, http://www.electroiq.com/articles/sst/2013/02/worldwide-led-component-market-grows-9-percent-with-lighting-.html?cmpid=EnlLedFebruary132013

 

 

 

 

Made in America – Sapphire for the High Growth LED Market

While Google made a splash recently about making the Nexus Q media player in the US, companies all over the US are making key contributions of the economy by manufacturing in America.  One of the key building blocks for LEDs is sapphire.  Much like silicon is used for computer chips, sapphire is the foundation for an LED chip.  Illinois-based Rubicon Technology is one of the world’s leading producers of sapphire ingots, blanks, polished substrates and windows. With more than 80% of the world’s LEDs based on sapphire, Rubicon makes a very important contribution to the market right here in the US.

Rubicon grows large sapphire crystals in sapphire furnaces in its Franklin Park, Batavia and Bensenville, Illinois-crystal growth facilities.  The company makes very large sapphire crystals – bulk crystal ranging in size from 30 kg to 85 kg to 200 kg – that are cored and shipped to a Rubicon finishing facility in Malaysia or to directly to finishing customers throughout Asia to make sapphire wafers that and then made into millions of little LED chips.  These LED chips are found in everything from smartphones, laptops and tablets, HDTVs, big ad displays, street lights, commercial lighting and even new LED light bulbs.

Why manufacture the sapphire crystals in the US?  According to Rubicon, the crystal growth process is a high precision process that uses energy that must be kept constant. Any deviation in the power during the crystal growth process can lead to imperfections in a crystal rendering that crystal unusable.

Based on a decade of Rubicon company experience and decades of semiconductor expertise, Rubicon has custom-built next-generation crystal growth furnaces for their US plants. Rubicon’s innovations have resulted in industry-leading large-diameter sapphire wafers – six inches or more in size versus the commonly made two, three and four inch wafers – that help bring LED chip manufacturers cost efficiencies they can’t achieve with smaller wafers.  To date, Rubicon has shipped 230,000 large diameter wafers.

“No other country in the world has reliable, low cost utilities like the US,” said William Weissman, CFO for Rubicon.  “We specifically have designed our crystal growth facilities around reliable resources for power and water.  The location in the US also allows us to protect our intellectual property inherent in our furnaces and processes in a way that cannot be maintained outside of the country.”