When talking about smartphones, we usually hear only the names of the manufacturers, and sometimes Qualcomm or MediaTek, companies that make processors for our handsets. However, there are several different components on a smartphone that come from third party companies, and camera sensors are one great example of this outsourcing. The market is dominated by Japanese giant Sony, with over 40% in market share and a focus on high-end devices such as Samsung's Galaxy and Note series, LG G, Apple, GoPro and so on. Sony is followed by OmniVision, which also has a big market share but their focus is on entry-level to mid-range mass-production smartphones. During Mobile World Congress (MWC 2016), which is happening in Barcelona right now, the company has announced their newest camera sensor in a move to catch the attention of the higher-end market.
The OV13870 PureCel Plus-S is a 13-megapixel sensor built on a new 1.25-micron pixel architecture by OmniVision, capable of capturing full-resolution 13MP still images at 45 frames per second (FPS). The video part is also pretty impressive and the sensor can record in 4K2K (ultra-high resolution) at 240 FPS, or in HD at 300 FPS. "The trend towards bigger pixels is picking up as the resolution race slows down, making the OV13870's larger 1.25-micron pixel and high-speed architecture well-suited for premium mobile applications," commented Manish Shelat, senior Product Marketing Manager for the company, highlighting that the sensor's dual camera capability can provide key functionalities for phone manufacturers as devices with two cameras is gaining popularity. One important characteristic of the OV13870 is that it has a 5.2 mm module height, which is helpful on thinner smartphones and avoids weird camera bumps, as seen on the Galaxy S6.
According to the company, the sensor will enter volume production in the second quarter of 2016, but there's no information on which manufacturers will be implementing it. OmniVision venture in the high-end segment did not go very well when they joined HTC on the Ultrapixel idea. However, the technology has been improved and smartphone makers are giving more focus on low-light capture, which is a good opportunity for OmniVision. With a plethora of lower-priced but powerful smartphones coming from China this year, there's a chance there will be more news about the sensor being shipped in due course.