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Synaptics new CEO hopes to bring the growth touch

By Himank Sharma

(Reuters) - Synaptics Inc expects to return to revenue growth as the maker of touchpads for PCs shifts focus to touchscreen chips used in tablets and smartphones, its newly appointed CEO said.

"We want to continue to get back to top-line growth, and that really is based around design wins in the smartphone market and tablet market," Rick Bergman, who took over as chief executive last week -- nearly a year after Thomas Tiernan abruptly resigned as CEO -- told Reuters.

Santa Clara, California-based Synaptics, valued at about $770 million, is the world's largest maker of touchpads, used as a primary interface device in laptops.

The company's revenue grew over 16 percent in the last fiscal, but fell 2 percent to $143.4 million in the latest fourth quarter as PC sales slowed down.

Research firm Gartner slashed its forecast for PC shipments growth to 9.3 percent for 2011, from nearly 14 percent last year.

Revenue from Synaptics' digital lifestyle product applications segment -- which includes touchscreen chips -- rose 11 percent in 2011 to $309.2 million, to become the largest segment. Its PC touchpad business fell 11 percent during the same period.

"For touchscreen chips, there's just a great deal of opportunity for growth, both with market-share expansion and as the smartphone market grows," Bergman said.

Gartner expects smartphone shipments to grow over 50 percent this year to 468 million units, and tablet shipments to more than triple to over 63 million units.

Synaptics, which counts Taiwan's HTC Corp, South Korean LG Electronics and Samsung Electronics as some of its customers, currently holds about a 30 percent market share in the fast-growing market for touchscreen sensors.

Larger rival Atmel Corp accounts for 35 percent of the touchscreen market while Cypress Semiconductor holds 30 percent.

'TO BE NUMBER ONE'

Bergman, who joined from Advanced Micro Devices Inc, hopes to leverage his expertise in semiconductor manufacturing as Synaptics expands to a broader set of chips. The company branched out into touchscreen chips early last year.

"I was brought in here to be number one in the touchscreen chips segment," he said.

Synaptics' stock has lost more than 7 percent since Tiernan resigned last October, while the broader S&P tech hardware index fell almost 4 percent.

Investors cheered Bergman's appointment, sending the stock up as much as 7 percent on September 29.

Bergman, 47, was senior vice president of AMD's products group, where he managed the world's second largest chipmaker's graphics and microprocessor product development teams.

The CEO, who said he was first approached by Synaptics earlier in the summer, however, sees growth for its PC segment in emerging markets.

"Things like tablets are very popular here in North America, but a lot of growth is coming from emerging markets for laptops, where consumers want a more standard type of platform for computing."

Bergman said the upcoming launch of Microsoft's Windows 8, expected next year, will also boost PC segment sales.

(Reporting by Himank Sharma in Bangalore; Editing by Sriraj Kalluvila)

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