In a previous analyst insight (here) on the ams acquisition of Heptagon, it was noted that the acquisition could be linked (among other reasons) to Heptagon having a major customer commitment (assumed to be Apple) for a product ramp in H2 2017. IHS Markit has assumed that this must be for Heptagon’s time of flight packaging work (to be combined with ams’ IC design and sensors). As mentioned by ams in a recent call, it would have the scale to ramp up production of this part to meet high volume demands in a way that Heptagon could not.
However as part of IHS Markit’s ongoing teardown, an STMicroelectronics time of flight sensor appears to have replaced Heptagon’s proximity sensor on the iPhone 7’s display side. It appears to be a custom part based on VL53L0X. Given that Apple accounted for more than 80% of Heptagon’s revenue, this would indicate a possible driver for the sale of Heptagon to ams. It may also explain why ams was needed to fund and support ramping volume potential by H2 2017.
If in fact ams/Heptagon will supply a time of flight sensor into the iPhone in 2017, it is unclear if it will be on the camera side (more likely) or if it will act as a second source to or replace STMicroelectronics’ part on the display side. On the camera side, products like Shilah and Trinity from Heptagon could potentially boost Apple’s camera capabilities for autofocus as well as Bokeh and depth of field type functionalities. While on the display side, Heptagon’s Olivia could also perform proximity sensing functionality.
The design win for STMicroelectronics is great news for its light sensor business as it now supplies high ASP microphones and light sensors into the iPhone. This represents a dramatic comeback for STMicroelectronics after it lost both the gyroscope and accelerometer slots in the iPhone over the last 4 years.