Japan's component makers show the path forward for gadgets

They're not household names but their products drive the future of electronics

A tiny capacitor produced by Taiyo Yuden on show at Ceatec Japan 2014 in Makuhari, Japan, on October 7, 2014

A tiny capacitor produced by Taiyo Yuden on show at Ceatec Japan 2014 in Makuhari, Japan, on October 7, 2014

Resistors, switches and sensors aren't sexy, especially against the bright lights and flashy dance shows competing for attention at this week's Ceatec show in Japan. But if you want to see the future of electronics, the companies that make these humble components are worth a closer look.

While the processor, display and software get most of the attention in new smartphones and wearables, it's often the other components that drive new features and enable the continual march to smaller, lighter gadgets.

Many of those components come from Japanese companies like Murata, Rohm and Alps, which aren't household names but are among the leaders in the component industry.

At this year's Ceatec, Alps is showing a tiny sensor module attached to the arm of a pair of glasses. It measures just 5.5mm by 12.5 mm yet packs sensors for pressure, temperature, humidity, direction and geomagnetism, as well as a Bluetooth Low Energy radio, so the sensor readings can be sent to a companion gadget.

That means the module can sense when a user is walking, sitting down, turns their head or falls. It's so small that it's almost eclipsed by its Lithium Ion battery. Alps is using it to demonstrate the capabilities it can offer manufacturers of wearables.

At Rohm's booth, the company is showing a different sensor module packed into a device shaped like a key. The components include an ultraviolet sensor, so it can advise you what level of sun screen to wear. And if you raise your arm and point the key at the top of well known landmark, like the Eiffel Tower, it will calculate the distance to the base of the building. It does this using the accelerometer, which measures the angle that your arm is raised.

Again, the idea is to show manufacturers what they can do with its components. A Rohm representative said the sensor board would cost only $1 when bought in large quantities.

A few steps away, Taiyo Yuden is showing some tiny capacitors. Its latest is almost half the volume of its previous model at an impressive 0.1mm by 0.05mm by 0.05mm -- if you drop one of those on the floor, you'll probably never be able to find it.

Memory cards continue to shrink through successive generations, and the connectors in which they slot are also getting smaller. Taiyo Yuden has managed to cram the card connector, housing and associated electronics into a module that's thinner than any other on the market.

Murata, which has tried to make sensors sexy with its dancing robots, has a micro position sensor that's 3mm square. It can be used to sense rotational movement and is destined for use in tiny gadgets, like behind the crown of a smartwatch. At Ceatec, Murata showed it mounted on the side of a pair of glasses as a zoom control for a camera. Like the Rohm resistors, Murata said it is the smallest such sensor in the world.

While some of the components on show are still prototypes, their development points to future gadgets that pack even more capabilities in a tiny form factor.

Martyn Williams covers mobile telecoms, Silicon Valley and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Martyn on Twitter at @martyn_williams. Martyn's e-mail address is martyn_williams@idg.com

Join the newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection

Tags Taiyo YudenMurataMitsumiComponentsRohmCEATECAlps

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Martyn Williams

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Cool Tech

Breitling Superocean Heritage Chronographe 44

Learn more >

SanDisk MicroSDXC™ for Nintendo® Switch™

Learn more >

Toys for Boys

Family Friendly

Panasonic 4K UHD Blu-Ray Player and Full HD Recorder with Netflix - UBT1GL-K

Learn more >

Stocking Stuffer

Razer DeathAdder Expert Ergonomic Gaming Mouse

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Ben Ramsden

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

Brainstorming, innovation, problem solving, and negotiation have all become much more productive and valuable if people can easily collaborate in real time with minimal friction.

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Ratchada Dunn

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The Huddle Board’s built in program; Sharp Touch Viewing software allows us to easily manipulate and edit our documents (jpegs and PDFs) all at the same time on the dashboard.

George Khoury

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The biggest perks for me would be that it comes with easy to use and comprehensive programs that make the collaboration process a whole lot more intuitive and organic

David Coyle

Brother PocketJet PJ-773 A4 Portable Thermal Printer

I rate the printer as a 5 out of 5 stars as it has been able to fit seamlessly into my busy and mobile lifestyle.

Kurt Hegetschweiler

Brother PocketJet PJ-773 A4 Portable Thermal Printer

It’s perfect for mobile workers. Just take it out — it’s small enough to sit anywhere — turn it on, load a sheet of paper, and start printing.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?