To paraphrase the Verizon nerd, "Can you hear me now? Good thing I'm using MEMS."
Microelectromechanical system (or MEMS) microphones are the secret hot technology in today's cell phones, notebook PC's and camcorders. The shotgun wedding of a pressure-sensitive diaphragm etched on a semiconductor, MEMS is quickly supplanting traditional electret condenser microphone (ECM) technology.
Although Apple had implemented MEMS mics in the iPod Nano 5G, it wasn't until the iPhone 4 that the technology made its presense known. In fact, current i4's use two MEMS (for noise cancelling); that, plus the phone's runaway global success, makes Apple the second biggest customer for MEMS chips (after Samsung).
This year alone, worldwide MEMS microphone sales were just under 700 million — and analysts speculate that number could hit 1.4 beellion by 2014. So far, most of these sales have come directly (or via licensing) from MEMS pioneer Knowles Electronics, but a November 2010 International Trade Commission ruling that Knowles' silicon mic patents were invalid could open the floodgates to a score of competitors.