In recent years, the biggest trend of smartphone camera modules is the increasing number of rear camera modules, according to TrendForce’s investigations. According to TrendForce research, triple camera modules surpassed dual camera modules to become mainstream in 2020 and drove the continued growth of smartphone camera module shipments. Annual smartphone camera module shipments in 2022 are expected to reach 4.92 billion units, or 2% growth YoY.
However, the trend towards multiple cameras started to shift in 2H21 after a few years of positive growth. The previous spike in the penetration rate of four camera modules was primarily incited by mid-range smart phone models in 2H20 when mobile phone brands sought to market their products through promoting more and more cameras. However, as consumers realized that the macro and depth camera usually featured on the third and fourth cameras were used less frequently and improvements in overall photo quality limited, the demand for four camera modules gradually subsided and mobile phone brands returned to fulfilling the actual needs of consumers. In addition, increases in the pricing of semiconductor chips such as PMICs and Driver ICs, as well as increased shipping costs, have driven the cost of mobile phones up sharply. Without the ability to effectively pass this cost onto consumers, any remaining allowance to economically install low-end cameras has been effectively eliminated.
Camera resolution upgrades: fastest growing market share encompasses 49-64 million pixel cameras
Although camera shipment growth has slowed, camera resolution continues to improve. Taking primary cameras as an example, the current mainstream design is 13-48 million pixels, accounting for more than 50% of cameras in 2021. In second place are products featuring 49-64 million pixels which accounted for more than 20% of cameras last year with penetration rate expected to increase to 23% in 2022. The third highest portion is 12 million pixel products, currently dominated by the iPhone and Samsung’s flagship series. However, a 48 million pixel primary camera is expected to be introduced to the iPhone 14 Pro series (tentative name) that Apple will release this year, further reducing 12 million pixel products to a 15% share in 2022.
In addition to the original Samsung and Xiaomi brands employing 108 million pixels cameras, Vivo and Honor also introduced similar resolution cameras in 2021. There is a chance 200 million pixel products will be ready for commercial use in 2022, driving the penetration rate of ultra-high pixel products to an expected level in excess of 5% in 2022. However, such ultra-high pixel products primarily focus on enlarging photographs without losing image quality. Therefore, TrendForce believes that any marginal benefits these products bring to consumers will gradually decrease and the penetration rate will not grow as quickly as 49-64 million pixels products.
Overall, TrendForce believes that the number of camera modules mounted on smartphones will no longer be the main focus of mobile phone brands, as focus will return to the real needs of consumers. Therefore, triple camera modules will remain the mainstream design for the next 2~3 years.
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The market in general had high hopes for Mini LED notebook computers in 2021. Although most brands were relatively unenthusiastic towards the adoption of Mini LED displays, the release of Mini LED products by Apple will likely generate a copycat effect and inject fresh momentum into both demand and shipment for the Mini LED notebook market. Apple did, in fact, release two brand new MacBook Pros with 14.2-inch and 16.2-inch displays, both of which are equipped with Mini LED backlights as expected. However, these Mini LED notebook displays did not receive as much marketing and publicity as the Mini LED displays used for the iPad Pro models, which had been released about six months prior.
During the unveiling of the 12.9-inch iPad Pro in 2Q21, Apple made special mention of improvements brought about by the Liquid Retina XDR display technology thanks to the company’s adoption of Mini LED backlights. Conversely, perhaps because the new physical dimensions and processors took most of the spotlight, Apple was surprisingly quiet on its new MacBook Pro models’ Mini LED displays as it announced the release of these new computers during its October event. Not only did the Mini LED iPad Pros completely replace the previous edge-lit models, but these new tablets also featured a mere US$100 retail price hike, which basically entirely accounts for the cost of the new displays. Subsequently, the market began eagerly anticipating the release of the new Mini LED iPad Pro models. In contrast, whereas the 14.2-inch and 16.2-inch models of the new MacBook Pros also feature Mini LED displays exclusively, their retail prices saw significant jumps owing to the integration of multiple updated components and designs, in turn refreshing the enthusiasm of the market for Mini LED displays.
Thanks to the release of the two new MacBook models, annual Mini LED notebook shipment for 2021 reached 2.2 million units, representing a 1% penetration rate in the total notebook market. Regrettably, apart from MacBooks, the shipment volume of Mini LED notebooks released by non-Apple brands was rather insignificant. Looking ahead to 2022, given the all-out effort by Apple to ramp up MacBook shipment throughout the whole year, annual Mini LED notebook shipment for 2022 will likely undergo a staggering 360% YoY increase to eight million units for a 3.4% penetration rate. However, judging by notebook brands’ adoption of display solutions at the moment, most non-Apple brands will still gravitate towards OLED panels in 2022, with minimal adoption of Mini LED displays.
If Gen 8.5 OLED panel production lines are able to kick off mass production from 2024 onwards, will Apple transition its MacBook displays to a different solution much like it did for iPad? TrendForce believes that Apple has historically held a receptive attitude towards OLED solutions. Furthermore, from a technology assessment perspective, notebook computers and tablets are relatively similar in their display technologies and, to a lesser extent, use cases. If Apple does decide to transition iPad displays from Mini LED to OLED, then the company will likely do the same for MacBook display as well, in principle. On the other hand, LCD panels are still expected to remain the mainstream display technology for notebook computers in 2025. It, therefore, makes competitive sense for notebook brands to differentiate their products with OLED panels in the high-end segment and with LCD panels and Mini LED backlights in the premium mid-range segment or even mid-range segment. At any rate, given the shrinking gap between the cost structures of Mini LED solutions and OLED solutions, only by continually optimizing the manufacturing costs of Mini LED backlights can suppliers convince Apple to continue adopting Mini LED displays.
Benefiting from expanded introduction of AMOLED mobile phone models by Apple, Samsung and Chinese brands, the market penetration rate of AMOLED panels for mobile phones in 2021 was 42%, according to TrendForce‘s investigations. In 2022, continuous investment undertaken by numerous panel factories to expand AMOLED production lines will drive AMOLED panel penetration rate to an estimated 46%. However, TrendForce further asserts that the continued tight supply of AMOLED DDI and the willingness of mobile phone brands to expand the use of AMOLED panels will be the keys influencing AMOLED market penetration rate next year.
Continued tightness in AMOLED DDI supply for mobile phones
The AMOLED DDI process requires dedicated medium voltage 8V processes at the 40nm and 28nm nodes. However, the supply of dedicated process capacity in 2021 is limited. In addition, Samsung’s Austin, Texas fab was shut down due to a snowstorm in early 2021, resulting in serious shortages of AMOLED DDI. New capacity in 2022 includes UMC at the 28nm node and SMIC at the 40nm node. However, since capacity and expanded capacity still cannot effectively meet the various brand’s demand for AMOLED DDI, Samsung’s fab will continue to reduce OLED DDIC production scale in the future. Stocking issues are expected to plague AMOLED DDI continuing into 2022.
TrendForce states, UMC’s primary expansion plan for 28nm AMOLED DDI will be completed by the end of 2023, so AMOLED DDI supply tightness is expected to be alleviated in 2023. In addition, other foundries have plans to develop dedicated AMOLED DDI processes but, due to a belated development schedule, these plans will not be able to address the AMOLED DDI shortage in 2022. Facing limitations on dedicated AMOLED DDI production capacity, traditional front-line DDI design houses are actively booking the majority of production capacity, while other DDI design houses are also competing for limited production capacity in order to enter the AMOLED panel factory supply chain.
Mobile phone brands expand their willingness to adopt AMOLED panels
Facing the gradual maturity of AMOLED panel technology and the continuous improvement of production yields, AMOLED market penetration rate will increase from 42% in 2021 to 46% in 2022. This will reduce the market share of LTPS panels in the mid-tier market and drive panel makers to transfer LTPS production capacity to medium size applications. However, mobile phone brands face the risk of AMOLED DDI continuing to being out of stock in 2022. In addition to the high price of AMOLED panels and the steady increase in the pricing of other semiconductor components, in order for mobile phone brands to maintain profitability and achieve annual shipment goals, TrendForce expects that a small number of AMOLED products may switch over to LCD panels to pad shipments in the mid-to-low-end mobile phone market, allowing LTPS panel makers to gain a bit of breathing room in the mid-end market.
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Despite their similar physical dimensions, notebook panels and tablet panels entail drastically different market conditions. Being two of the strongest performers in the relatively oligopolistic tablet market, Apple and Samsung collectively possess a nearly 60% market share, thereby forcing other brands to adopt a relatively passive strategy that prioritizes conserving market share over adopting emerging technologies. In contrast, the notebook computer market has remained competitive throughout the years, with market leaders HP, Lenovo, and Dell holding the absolute advantage in the commercial notebook segment. Even so, Acer and Asus still enjoy some degree of dominance in the consumer segment, not to mention the fact that Apple has carved a niche market of its own thanks to the absolute differentiation of MacBooks from the rest of the field.
With greater diversity of brands comes greater competition in the market. As such, companies must now continue to refresh their product specs and product ranges in order to stay competitive. In this regard, Mini LED products would appear to be likelier to see adoption in the notebook computer market than in the tablet market. It should be pointed out that SDC (Samsung Display Co.) holds the sole patent for OLED tablet panels – the main competitor of display solutions featuring Mini LED backlights and LCD panels. Although SDC is still figuring out its medium- and long-term strategies in the tablet market, it has been relatively aggressive in capturing share in the notebook market. For instance, SDC’s OLED notebook panels have been gradually cannibalizing market shares from LCD notebook panels since 2021. To date, more than four million notebook computers featuring Samsung’s OLED panels have been shipped, accounting for a nearly 2% market share. In addition, almost all mainstream notebook brands have started carrying their respective lineup of OLED notebooks.
The meteoric rise of OLED models in the notebook market this year can primarily be attributed to SDC, which is the sole supplier of OLED notebook panels. Whereas SDC previously allocated most of its production capacity for OLED (Rigid OLED) panels to smartphone displays, the successive ramp-up of Gen 6 production lines for OLED (Flexible OLED) panels in China has resulted in a hypercompetitive market with plummeting quotes that both placed significant downward pressure on the existing price band of rigid OLED panels and negatively affected demand for rigid OLED panels. Given that the aforementioned factors are unlikely to reverse course, SDC has therefore decided to reallocate their production capacity for rigid OLED panels from smartphone displays to notebook displays instead, since the former has continued to decline as an added value while the latter appears to have much more potential for growth.
Incidentally, SDC has spent considerable time cultivating its presence in the notebook computer market. The company formerly positioned its OLED solutions exclusively in the flagship market segment, with UHD/4K being the only resolution available on its OLED notebook panels. The adoption of these products was lukewarm at best due to OLED panels’ prohibitive prices and the very limited target audience for UHD models. Moving to 2020, however, SDC adopted a more ambitious approach to the notebook market and subsequently released a host of OLED panels featuring Full HD resolution in accordance with the mainstream market’s demands. By doing so, SDC was able to not only substantially lower its OLED notebook panel quotes, but also align its products with the enormous total addressable market of mainstream notebook consumers, in turn skyrocketing notebook brands’ willingness to adopt OLED panels.
Not only have OLED displays enjoyed a longstanding presence in the high-end smartphone and TV segments, but most consumers also generally understand that OLED panels are superior to traditional LCD panels with respect to such specifications as color saturation, contrast levels, and even physical thickness. For notebook computer brands, adopting OLED panels in their displays allows said brands to cut down on costs that would otherwise have to be spent on either educating the average consumer on popular science topics related to display technology or marketing the brands’ display solutions, as OLED displays’ superior specs are already widely known. That is why almost all mainstream brands, ranging from Asus to HP and Dell, have released OLED-equipped notebook computers, some of which even boast consumer-oriented product positions and consumer-friendly retail prices.
On the other hand, although the integration of Mini LED backlights significantly bolsters LCD panels’ traditionally weak contrast levels, significant marketing costs are required to ensure consumers understand the benefits of this new backlighting technology. While OLED solutions are already widely recognized in the market, Mini LED products’ vast marketing costs represent a significant competitive weakness against OLED products. Furthermore, manufacturing costs of display solutions that feature Mini LED backlights and LCD panel modules are about 30-50% higher than those of equivalent solutions featuring OLED panel modules due to the former’s complex design, high number of components, and limited economy of scale. Hence, high manufacturing costs are yet another obstacle preventing brands from investing in Mini LED development.
The smartphone market is showing an improvement in demand during the second half of this year due to the peak season for e-commerce promotional activities and the easing of COVID-19 outbreaks in regions such as Southeast Asia, according to TrendForce’s latest investigations. However, there have been significant shortages of components including 4G SoCs, low-end 5G SoCs, display panel driver ICs, etc. The persistent component gaps are constraining smartphone brands from raising device production for the second half of the year. Looking at 3Q21, the quarterly total smartphone production came to around 325 million units, a 5.7% QoQ increase. Even so, not only does the QoQ increase in smartphone production for 3Q21 fall short of the QoQ increase for the same quarter last year, but the quarterly production volume for 3Q21 also shows a weaker performance result when compared with figures from 3Q20 or from 3Q19, prior to the emergence of the pandemic.
As for the total production for the whole 2021, TrendForce has lowered the projection to 1.335 billion units with a YoY growth rate of 6.5%. The previous projection was 1.345 billion units with a YoY growth rate of 7.3%. This downward correction mainly reflects the impact of the component gaps on device production. Going forward, an important point of observation in the smartphone market is whether the pandemic will further weaken demand. Also, the other significant variables that will influence future smartphone demand include geopolitical tensions, distribution of production capacity in the foundry market, and global inflationary pressure.
While smartphone production for 3Q21 reached about 325 million units, the release of new models helped Apple retake second place in the global ranking
Samsung raised its smartphone production by 17.9% QoQ to 69 million units for 3Q21. The growth was mainly attributed to the stabilization of the capacity utilization rates of its device assembly plants in Vietnam. Samsung continued to top the global ranking of smartphone brands with the largest market share in production terms. Apple released four new iPhone models under the iPhone 13 series in 3Q21. Thanks to their contribution, the total iPhone production for 3Q21 registered a QoQ increase of 22.6% to 51.5 million units. With this result, Apple was also able to climb to second place in the global ranking. In terms of product development, Apple is staying with the plan to release its third-generation iPhone SE in 1Q22 and four models under a new series in 2H22. The third-generation iPhone SE is expected to be a major instrument in helping Apple establish a presence in the market segment for mid-range 5G smartphones. Its production volume for 2022 is forecasted to reach 25-30 million units.
OPPO marginally raised its smartphone production by 3% QoQ to 51 million units for 3Q21, thereby capturing third place in the ranking. Xiaomi held fourth place as its smartphone production for the same quarter fell by 10% QoQ to 44.5 million units. Vivo’s smartphone production for 3Q21 was relatively constant compared with the previous quarter, coming to around 34 million units. With this result, Vivo was ranked fifth. The production figures of these three Chinese brands include devices under their respective sub-brands (i.e., OPPO’s Realme and OnePlus; Xiaomi’s Redmi, POCO, and Black Shark; and Vivo’s iQoo). Looking at the three brands’ production performances in 3Q21, TrendForce notes that there is a high degree of overlap in terms of target market as well as a high degree of similarity in offerings. Hence, their production performances directly hinge on their ability to acquire enough of the components that are now in short supply.
Honor will expand into the overseas markets next year as part of its plan for a comeback
After spending the first half of this year stocking up on components and undergoing business restructuring, Honor is now on a more solid footing and will attain an annual smartphone production of 43.5 million units. In the global ranking of smartphone brands by annual production for 2021, Honor is expected to take eighth place. Also, Honor as an independent brand has obtained access to Google Mobile Services. Therefore, it plans to expand to other markets outside China next year and leverage the sales expertise that it has acquired from Huawei in order gain a bigger share of the overseas markets. Regarding Honor’s sales strategy as a whole, the main focus is still on the domestic market. As for the overseas markets, Honor will continue Huawei’s strategy and avoid India where competition revolves around low pricing. Instead, Honor will attempt to establish itself in regions such as Russia, the wider Europe, and South America. In general, Honor’s rise will likely affect the market shares of the other aforementioned brands. How much market share Honor will gain depends on its ability to have sufficient inventory of components that are now in short supply.
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