S&P 400 Component
|Industry||Computer hardware and software|
|Headquarters||San Jose, California, U.S.|
ClearPad touch controllers
Natural ID and Clear ID fingerprint sensors
ClearView display drivers
AudioSmart DSPs and SOCs
|Revenue||US$1.72 billion (2017)|
|US$64.7 million (2017)|
|US$48.8 million (2017)|
Number of employees
Synaptics is a publicly owned San Jose, California-based developer of human interface (HMI) hardware and software, including touchpads for computer laptops; touch, display driver, and fingerprint biometrics technology for smartphones; and touch, video and far-field voice technology for smart home devices and automotives. Synaptics primarily sells its products to original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and display manufacturers.
Since its founding in 1986, the company's notable innovations include the first ever computer touchpad, touch technology for the click wheel on the classic iPod, touch sensors used in numerous Android phones, touch and display driver integrated chips (TDDI), and biometrics technology for fingerprint sensors. All touch and fingerprint technology on smartphones was based on capacitive sensing up until the introduction of optical fingerprint sensing in late 2016.
Scientists and engineers Federico Faggin and Carver Mead founded Synaptics in 1986, inspired by their interest in neural networks and how technology might imitate neural networks. Faggin and Mead applied their research and discoveries on neural networks and transistors on chips to build pattern recognition products. The name of the company is a portmanteau, blending synapse and electronics. In 1991, Synaptics patented a refined "winner take all" circuit for teaching neural networks how to recognize patterns and images, so called because it uses basic physics principles in order to select the strongest signal from the array of different processors.
During Synaptics' early years, the laptop industry was struggling to make devices thinner because the spherical trackballs included in them required thicker device builds. Synaptics' founders recognized this issue and in 1992, used the pattern recognition techniques it developed to build the world's first touchpad. By 1994, Twinhead and Epson America had adopted Synaptics' touchpad for their computers, followed by Apple in 1995 and later by other leading computer manufacturers of the time, including Compaq and Dell.
As adoption of the touchpad grew, Synaptics sought to integrate the technology with other products and expand the company with a range of human interface technologies. In 1999, Francis Lee took over as CEO. The company had an initial public offering in 2002. In 2004, Apple debuted the iPod Mini and fourth-generation iPod, both featuring a scrolling click wheel enabled by Synaptics' capacitive touch technology, and Synaptics also provided a similar, vertical solution for the click wheel of the Creative Zen Touch portable media player.
In 2005, Synaptics sensors were featured in the Samsung B310, the first mobile phone to use capacitive-touch technology – and as early 2017, Samsung and many other Android phone manufacturers continued to use Synaptics sensors in their phones. In October 2006, Synaptics provided a live demonstration of the Onyx, a concept smartphone with a color touchscreen enabled by its ClearPad touch controller technology. The Onyx's touch sensor could also tell the difference between a finger and a cheek, preventing accidental inputs during calls. In 2007, LG launched its Prada phone, the world's first mobile phone with a capacitive touchscreen, featuring Synaptics' touch sensors. Synaptics' touchscreen technology was also featured in Logitech's Harmony line of universal remote controls with capacitive-touch capabilities, which debuted in 2008.
In 2009, Synaptics revealed the Fuse concept smartphone, which included several features that are now standard in modern smartphones, and showcased it at the Consumer Electronics Show in January 2010. The Fuse offered touch sensitivity on the back of the phone, the ability to interact with the phone by squeezing, animated icons, a user interface sensitive to the phone's orientation and tilt, and haptic gestures.
In 2012, Synaptics introduced the first full-function capacitive-touch product that used pressure recognition (i.e. force sensing) to allow for multi-finger and variable-force input. (Apple debuted Force Touch, a similar technology, in 2014.) In late 2013, Synaptics acquired Validity Sensors, a fingerprint sensor vendor, adding capacitive fingerprint sensing to Synaptics' portfolio.
Synaptics acquired Renesas SP Drivers Inc., a Japanese company specializing in chips that manage LCD displays, in 2014. The acquisition enabled Synaptics to integrate offerings of touch and display driver technologies into a single "TDDI" (Touch and Display Driver Integration) chip.
With its growing portfolio of touch, display, and fingerprint offerings, in 2015 the company expanded into additional markets, including automotive, wearables and PC peripherals. In July 2015, Synaptics debuted a unique “match-in-sensor” fingerprint authenticator for laptops and other devices that authenticates the fingerprint within the chip itself for greater security.
The company debuted the Clear ID FS9100, its first optical-based fingerprint sensor, in December 2016, and after improving the technology, sent it into full production a year later. In January 2018, the Chinese company Vivo announced the X20 Plus UD, a smartphone featuring Synaptics’ Clear ID optical fingerprint sensor. This was the world’s first full-production smartphone with fingerprint authentication directly in the OLED display.
In July 2017, Synaptics acquired Conexant Systems, an Amazon Alexa partner that creates voice and audio software and silicon products for smart homes, for $300 million in cash and 726,666 shares of stock. At the same time, Synaptics acquired Marvell Technology Group's Multimedia Solutions unit, which creates video and audio processing technology, for $95 million. The two acquisitions were intended to aid Synaptics' expansion into the Internet of things market.
In Aug. 2019, the board of directors appointed Michael Hurlston as the new CEO.
As of July 2017, Synaptics held more than 1,900 granted or pending patents for human interface technologies. Many Synaptics products are based on capacitive sensing technology, sensing the electrical properties of the finger(s) touching the sensor, as opposed to resistive touchscreen technologies, which sense direct pressure and require an amount of force. Synaptics also offers products based on optical sensing technology, which uses light, rather than electrical current, to obtain its readings.
Synaptics' product offerings focus on human machine interface technologies, including touch, display and audio. The company also sells technologies through acquisitions, including fax/modem and imaging solutions.
- Touchpad products: Touch-sensitive touchpads that sense the position and movement of one or more fingers on their surfaces. The TouchPad's core market is notebook PCs.
- ClearPad touch controllers: Capacitive-touch controllers with minimal size and low power requirements, tailored for compact displays and mobile devices.
- Natural ID (capacitive) and Clear ID (optical) fingerprint sensors: Fingerprint authentication sensors combining biometrics and advanced encryption. Synaptics' fingerprint ID sensors can also function within smartphone displays, making it possible to eliminate the home button and bezels around the screen.
- ClearView display drivers: Display driver integrated circuits for LCDs and OLED displays.
- TouchView integrated touch and display controllers: Single and two-chip products with both touch and display technology, which allows devices to be thinner and lighter at lower costs.
- AudioSmart far-field voice DSPs: Audio hardware and software for voice-enabled devices, including products with Alexa and Cortana.
- AudioSmart digital headset SoCs: Audio codecs for headsets and other accessories.
- VideoSmart multimedia processors: Technology for TVs, set-top boxes, and over-the-top streaming devices (including technology acquired through the purchase of Marvell Technology Group's Multimedia Solutions unit).
- ImagingSmart image processors: Silicon and software products for document and photo imaging controllers, digital video, fax, and modem, acquired with the purchase of Conexant.
Synaptics is a founding member of the FIDO (Fast ID Online) Alliance and the Universal Stylus Initiative (USI), an organization driving industry standards to promote interoperable active styluses with touch-enabled devices. Synaptics also partners with many global ecosystem market makers, including Google, Microsoft, Baidu, and Amazon.
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