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Sony in talks to supply more image sensors to Apple

CMOS sensor sales are a key part of Sony's strategy.

TOKYO -- Sony has entered negotiations with Apple to double its supply of camera components for a new iPhone slated to roll out as early as next year, taking another step in its pivot toward the mobile and imaging fields.

     The Japanese firm already supplies nearly all of the CMOS (complementary metal-oxide semiconductor) sensors for the current iPhone models' rear-mounted main cameras. Apple is likely looking to switch to Sony sensors for the secondary camera on the screen side, used for taking self-portraits.

     The American smartphone maker apparently uses parts from suppliers in the U.S. and elsewhere for the front camera. With more customers expected to use smartphones for video calls, it sounded out Sony, which is known for its high-definition technology, about a larger sensor supply.

     Sony's image sensor sales, chiefly CMOS sensors, are expected to total about 360 billion yen ($3.47 billion) this fiscal year. It held the largest share of the global CMOS sensor market in 2012 at 32.1%, according to Techno Systems Research. This figure is likely larger for high-performance smartphone sensors.

     Sony does not disclose information about who buys its CMOS sensors, but it likely supplies Apple with more than 100 million units a year, with the bulk destined for iPhones. If the release of Apple's new products goes well, this figure could double to more than 200 million units in a year or two.

     Sony has laid the groundwork for stepping up production to keep up with the increase in orders.

     A request from Apple was the reason for its January decision to purchase a plant from Japanese chipmaker Renesas Electronics, according to a source involved in the negotiations. Sony plans to invest 35 billion yen in the facility to boost its monthly production capacity by 25%.

     Sony is a supplier for Samsung Electronics, the world's top smartphone seller, and No. 3 Huawei Technologies, as well as Apple.

     Sony has recently started providing batteries for Apple's iPad Air tablet. In December, it scuttled plans to unload its battery business, instead choosing to shift toward products for mobile devices.

     The company has announced plans to sell its computer business and spin off its TV segment. President and Chief Executive Officer Kazuo Hirai pledged to bring the electronics business back into the black this fiscal year -- a goal that has not yet been reached.

     Sony hopes to use the imaging and mobile businesses to revive the electronics business.


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