Cell Phones Take a Page From the Apple iPhone

Once again, the iPhone has served as validation for an idea that others have tried but didn’t implement as well as Apple did. In this case, it’s accelerometer technology, the motion sensing technology that’s an integral part of the iPhone as well as Palm’s Pre phone.

The accelerometer in the iPhone allows for features like rotating the screen when the device is turned sideways, the iTunes feature to shuffle music songs when the device is shaken, or compass applications found on the App Store.

Market research firm iSuppli tracks the features of more than 1,000 mobile phones from 32 manufacturers, and notes that in 2009, 18.3 percent of those phones had an accelerometer. However, the company expects that number to shoot up to 33 percent by next year. Not bad, considering only one out of 11 cell phones had it in 2008.

Thank you, iPhone. The feature has been around but it took Apple to make it popular. “There were other handsets that already had accelerometers. It started in Japan and Europe with Sony Ericsson and Nokia, but they never got the North American market’s attention, and we didn’t see those because they don’t have a lot of marketshare here,” Tina Teng, analyst for wireless communications at iSuppli told IntenetNews.com.

That has been slowly changing. HTC’s Android T-1 phone has an accelerometer and it is heavily utilized within the phone by Google apps.

iSuppli has done “teardowns,” a term for the process of tearing apart a device to get a look at its internals that has become all the rage on many gadget sites. It found a MEMS (Microelectromechanical systems) accelerometer from STMicroelectronics in the iPhone and a Kionix MEMS accelerometer and inclinometer in the Palm Pre.

Thanks in part to the rise in accelerometer use, iSuppli predicts revenue for these MEMS sensor will triple between 2008 and 2013. Global revenue from sales of MEMS processors for mobile phones will rise to $1.6 billion in 2013, up from $460.9 million in 2008.

iSuppli says that Sony Ericsson had the highest penetration of accelerometers, with 18 out of 19 new phones models introduced this year sporting the motion sensing chip. It estimates 38 percent of new Nokia handsets platforms have integrated motion-sensing accelerometers this year, with Samsung and LG also adding it.

Because the cost of adding the accelerometer chip is low, operators and OEMs are pushing the content it generates for a wide range of apps. iSuppli thinks accelerometers will be adopted even in future, mid-range phones and be broadly adopted, said Teng.

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