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AMS Hides Smartphone Sensors

May 23, 2017

Author: Tom R. Halfhill

Smartphone makers are scrounging for new ways to differentiate their products and to design phones that resemble a solid slab of smooth glass. One obsession is removing all blemishes from the front surface—including the tiny holes, or “apertures,” in the screen’s top bezel for the speaker, front camera, and sensors. The biggest aperture, by far, is the elongated speaker slot—but it’s necessary until the last few holdouts finally stop using their phones to make phone calls. The next-largest aperture is for the selfie camera’s lens, but it’s required until narcissism becomes unfashionable. So, by process of elimination, the apertures for the front-facing sensors are the best candidates for elimination.

Most smartphones have a 3-in-1 optical-sensor module. One component is an ambient-light sensor that enables the phone to adjust the screen’s brightness for comfortable viewing: brighter in bright light, dimmer in dim light. If the sensor can measure color temperatures, the phone can also adjust the screen’s white point to the color of the ambient light. The third function is a proximity sensor that can automatically turn off the screen when the phone is close to the user’s ear during a voice call.

Hiding the aperture for the 3-in-1 module may seem frivolous, but the leading smartphone makers are high-volume customers, so suppliers must heed their slightest whims. That’s why AMS, the industry’s largest supplier of light sensors, has invented new modules that can hide behind an inked screen bezel of any color without sacrificing performance. The initial products, available now, are two-chip solutions, but AMS is sampling a next-generation product that will integrate these functions in a single-chip module. When purchased in typically huge smartphone volumes, these sensors cost less than a dollar.

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