Samsung Overtakes Apple as Global Semiconductor Customer: Gartner

While the total semiconductor market decreased overall, together Apple and Samsung consumed $45.3 billion of semiconductors in 2012.

As consumer electronics titans Apple and Samsung battle each other over patent suits and mobile device market share, the two companies dominated semiconductor demand in 2012, although Samsung overtook Apple as the top worldwide semiconductor customer, according to a report from IT research firm Gartner.

While the total semiconductor market decreased by 3 percent overall, together Apple and Samsung consumed $45.3 billion of semiconductors in 2012, an increase of $7.9 billion from 2011, to represent 15 percent of total semiconductor demand. The top 10 companies—including Nokia, which saw the largest contraction in semiconductor demand—consumed $106.4 billion of semiconductors in 2012, to account for 36 percent of total semiconductor vendors' worldwide revenue of $297.6 billion.

"Although Samsung and Apple continue to go from strength to strength, other leading electronic equipment makers fared less well, and six of the top 10 reduced their demand in 2012," Masatsune Yamaji, a Gartner principal research analyst, said in a statement. "In addition to a weak macroeconomic situation, a dramatic change in consumer demand contributed to a reduction in semiconductor demand in 2012."

Hewlett-Packard landed in third place, falling 12.7 percent between 2011 and 2012 to represent 4.7 percent of the worldwide semiconductor market, followed by Dell, which fell 13.4 percent to 2.9 percent of the market in 2012. Nokia landed in 10th place, falling five spots between 2011 and 2012—by far the most dramatic drop on the list.

"Price competition between smartphone and media tablet vendors was severe in 2012, as hardware differentiation was very difficult to achieve," Yamaji noted. "Innovations in device hardware will soon be copied by competitors, as semiconductor vendors will soon provide commercial SoC (system-on-chip), software and reference designs to hardware vendors needing to catch up with innovative market leaders. Semiconductor vendors must aid, or at least monitor, the hardware innovations of the market leaders."

The report noted data center and communications infrastructure market would keep driving semiconductor demand, as the growth of mobile computing devices such as smartphones and media tablets has not yet fully compensated for the drop in the semiconductor demand from the PC market.

"The PC market still represented the largest sector for chip demand, but desktop and mobile PCs did not sell well, as consumers' interest shifted to new mobile computing devices like smartphones and media tablets," Yamaji continued. "This shift caused a substantial decrease in semiconductor demand in 2012, as the semiconductor content of a smartphone or a media tablet is far less than that of a PC."