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Supplier Marketplace: MEMS Microphones
Apr 7, 2014
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The market for microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) microphones is expected to continue growing in the coming years, according to IHS Technology data.

The components are used in iPhones and other devices. IHS forecasts 2014 global revenue for MEMS microphones to reach $1.04 billion, up 24% from 2013's $836.9 million.

The market for these components has grown rapidly, taking less than 10 years to reach $1 billion. Growth remains rapid but at a slower rate of expansion.

Still, the research firm expects solid results to continue in the coming years, with revenue projected to be $1.37 billion in 2017. This equates to a five-year compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 18% percent (2012 to 2017). Shipments are expected to be 5.4 billion units in 2017, up from 1.9 billion in 2012.

"Especially in an age in which devices are increasingly uniform, sound can be a real and important differentiator, in features such as voice command or crystal-clear audio in high-definition video—qualities that are possible only through high-performance MEMS microphones,” said Marwan Boustany, senior analyst for MEMS & sensors at IHS.

Most MEMS microphones currently go into handsets and tablets; Apple and Samsung are the biggest buyers.

Two primary measures of MEMS microphone quality are signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) and the maximum sound-pressure level (SPL). HIS said these define the lowest and highest sound levels (the dynamic range) that can be gauged by a microphone with a linear response. The measures apply to analog as well as digital MEMS microphones, and these measures have been used as the basis for microphone quality in marketing by handset makers Nokia and HTC.

Top-performing, very-high-SNR microphones have a signal-to-noise ratio level of 64 decibels or greater. The market research firm projects these components to show the most growth in coming years with an estimated five-year CAGR of 40% from 2012 to 2017.

The firm noted that low-SNR microphones, with a signal-to-noise ratio of less than 60 decibels, have been standard components in many handsets. These were acceptable for phone calls, but had performance limitations in applications with some distance between the sound source and the microphone, such as for video recording and voice commands. Low-SNR was also unable to effectively handle ambient-noise cancellation, in which the microphones help neutralize surrounding noise levels.

Very-high-SNR microphones were first used in 2012 by Apple in the iPhone 5, and subsequent iPhone generations also used them. Samsung later began using very-high-SNR MEMS microphones in S4 and Note 3 handsets. IHS data showed that the two brands made up 96% of revenue for the very-high-SNR MEMS microphone market in 2013.

Very-high-SNR microphones also better support voice commands, as needed for Apple’s Siri or Google's Now voice command features.

A third class of MEMS microphones are high-SNR devices with signal-to-noise ratio between 59 and 64 decibels, and these components may be adopted by lower midrange devices transitioning from low-SNR. Growth of this segment is expected to be less than the growth of very-high-SNR types, but higher than low-SNR, which the research firm sees headed into decline.

Apple and Samsung each use up to three microphones in their handsets, and that number may go to four in some models; multiple numbers help increase overall revenue for MEMS suppliers.

The rapidly growing tablet category is also driving the market. Apple iPads currently include two microphones. Samsung is putting multiple microphones in some tablets.

Hearing aids may also be a market for very-high-SNR microphones. One device the ReSound LiNX, two very-high-SNR microphones for noise cancellation and improved performance. The product also uses Bluetooth to connect to an iPhone, giving the hearing aid the ability to be used as a phone headset.

Vacation Home Sales Up 29% in 2013
Vacation home sales in 2013 were estimated by the National Association of Realtors to be 717,000, up 29.7% from 553,000 in 2012.

Investment-home sales in 2013, tracked in the same NAR report, were down 8.5% to an estimated 1.10 million, from 1.21 million in 2012. Owner-occupied purchases were up 13.1% to 3.70 million in 2013, from 3.27 million in 2012. NAR sales estimates are based on responses from households and do not include institutional investment activity.

NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun said he expected an improvement in the vacation home market. “Growth in the equity markets has greatly benefited high net-worth households, thereby providing the wherewithal and confidence to purchase recreational property,” he said.

He noted that vacation-home sales were still down by roughly a third from 2006's peak activity.

The organization said vacation-home sales accounted for 13% of all 2013 transactions, which was the highest market share for this category since 2006.

Investment sales accounted for 20% in 2013, down from 24% in 2012.

Yun said the pullback in investment activity is understandable.

“Investment buyers slowed their purchasing in 2013 because prices were rising quickly along with a declining availability of discounted foreclosures over the course of the year," he said. "In 2011 and 2012, investment property was a no-brainer because home prices had sharply over corrected during the downturn in many areas, creating great bargains that could be quickly turned into profitable rentals. With a return to more normal market conditions, investors now have to evaluate their purchases more carefully and do their homework."

The median investment-home price was $130,000 in 2013, up 13.0% from 2012's $115,000. The median vacation-home price was $168,700 in 2013, up 12.5% from $150,000 in 2012.

The profile of the typical vacation-home buyer in 2013, according to NAR's report:
• 43 years old
• $85,600 median household income
• bought a vacation home a median distance of 180 miles from his/her primary residence
• plans to own the recreational property for a median of 6 years, down from 10 years in 2012

Buyers' reasons for buying a vacation home:
• 87% want to use it for vacations or as a family retreat
• 31% plan to use it as a primary residence in the future
• 28% wanted to diversify investments/saw a good investment opportunity
• 23% plan to rent it out
• 22% intend it for use by a family member, friend, or relative

From analyzing U.S. Census Bureau data, NAR reported there were 8.0 million vacation homes and 43.7 million investment units in the United States; there were 74.7 million owner-occupied homes.

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