Your next smartphone might not feature a Sony camera sensor

Pixel 4 XL camera with brown case
Pixel 4 XL camera with brown case (Image credit: Nick Sutrich / Android Central)

What you need to know

  • The number of cameras on smartphones keeps increasing, putting a strain on the supply lines of camera sensor manufacturers.
  • Sony factories are running 24-hour and holiday shifts in an attempt to keep up with demand.
  • A new Sony camera sensor factory in Nagasaki is scheduled to open in April 2021, possibly meeting demand by then.

Sony has a problem that any company would be happy to have: its camera sensors are back-ordered and the company is having a hard time keeping up with demand. Despite smartphone sales stagnating, companies like Huawei and Sony are making products that people just can't get enough of. In Sony's case, its camera sensors for smartphones have been the best in the business for a very long time.

This pedigree, complete with the fact that smartphones are shipping with more cameras than ever nowadays, means that most phone manufacturers are pinning their hopes on Sony to continue innovating and building world-class sensors to help give customers a reason to upgrade their smartphones in 2020. A report coming out of Bloomberg shows that Sony is having a very difficult time keeping up with demand and, despite that fact that it has doubled capital spending on camera sensors to 280 billion yen, simply can't make enough sensors to keep up the pace.

Per Terushi Shimizu, Sony's head of semiconductor units:

We are having to apologize to customers because we just can't make enough.

Sony's new 60MP sensor looks to readily challenge Samsung's spec-busting 108MP frontrunner next year, but it might be Samsung that ends up winning that race not on specs alone, but the fact that it'll be able to make enough sensors to put into the newest smartphones. Part of the issue is that Sony's newest factory in Nagasaki won't open until April 2021, meaning Sony is already at capacity despite that it's working 24-hour shifts in its factories.

Sony has a big year ahead of it for 2020, with the launch of the PlayStation 5 at the end of 2020 and plenty of smartphones to make components for before then. What can we expect from 2020 smartphone cameras, then? It's likely that most smartphones will still feature Sony sensors for their main cameras, but those telephoto and wide-angle cameras might end up utilizing sensors from companies like Samsung, instead.

Nicholas Sutrich
Senior Content Producer — Smartphones & VR
Nick started with DOS and NES and uses those fond memories of floppy disks and cartridges to fuel his opinions on modern tech. Whether it's VR, smart home gadgets, or something else that beeps and boops, he's been writing about it since 2011. Reach him on Twitter or Instagram @Gwanatu