Global smartphone sell-in volumes in Q1 2019 fell for a sixth consecutive quarter, according to the latest data from Counterpoint Research. As a result, to stimulate smartphone replacements, OEMs have been gradually upgrading their specs to generate demand. And the feature that has seen the most significant upgrades is the camera function.
Already, we have seen OEMs switch to a multi-camera setup even in the lower price bands as well as bring in innovations such as enhanced zoom functionality and AI-enhanced images. The upcoming transition to 5G is set to bring a new momentum as OEMs work to enhance video-centric features. The tenfold increase in mobile bandwidth in the 5G era will develop the smartphone into a vehicle for high-quality video production rather than just a tool for video content consumption.
The trend of smartphone OEMs increasing the camera megapixels (MP) was clear in Q1 2019. According to Counterpoint Research’s data, smartphones with cameras of more than 12MP accounted for over 82% of the total shipments in Q1 2019.
During the quarter, the ratio of smartphones equipped with higher than 40MP rear camera reached nearly 3.6%, due to the increasing adoption of 48MP (0.8µm), which was applied in HONOR V20 and then widely used as the main camera within the triple camera setup.
The segment of 20~25MP also grew significantly, primarily driven by strong demand for the Samsung Galaxy A series, HONOR 10, HONOR 10i, and Huawei Nova 4e, and others equipped with a 24MP camera.
Exhibit 1: Smartphone Main (Rear) Camera Composition (%)
In spite of a slight decrease in market share, the ratio of the 12~13MP camera remained over 57%. The massive adoption of 12MP is attributable to the trend of pursuing high-quality image, leveraging the relatively larger pixel size (1.22/1.4/1.55µm).
However, the share of 16~18MP was flat as compared to the previous quarter, while the ratio of smartphones equipped with an 8MP(or less) camera has been decreasing.
In terms of OEMs leading the trend of higher camera megapixels, both Samsung and Huawei are at the forefront. At present, both brands have a broad portfolio, leading to a more mixed camera composition with the 12~13MP segment holding the most share. However, as Samsung is betting on A series for sales growth in developed markets, the ratio of 32MP(or more) is bound to occupy a considerable proportion from 2019 onwards.
On the contrary, OEMs like Apple, OPPO, and Vivo have a lean portfolio with 12/16/48MP applied in respective premium models. Currently, Apple highly replies on 12MP (1.4µm) as the main camera, while both OPPO and Vivo tend to differentiate design by using 13/16MP.
Xiaomi, a brand that is well known for value-for-money, also has a high proportion of devices using 12MP (with big pixel size) and 48MP for the rear camera.
Exhibit 2: Smartphone Main (Rear) Camera Composition by OEM (%), 2019 Q1
Given the growing demand for high-quality image and video, smartphone OEMs are keen on the adoption of higher resolution cameras. We expect to see continuous growth in the share of devices using cameras with 20MP or more. Samsung LSI just launched a new image sensor with resolution up to 64MP, aiming at the fall release cycle of smartphone flagships. This will further raise the level and quality of smartphone cameras, also resulting in an increased Bill of Materials (BoM) share.