With the growing sales of Apple’s mobile devices and the ever-increasing popularity of smartphones (analysts projected 30+ million iPhones for today’s holiday quarter earnings call), it is no surprise that the Mac-maker is rising up the chip-purchasing ladder. According to research firm Gartner, Apple is now the world’s largest buyer of silicon parts, spending an astounding $17 billion on semiconductors in 2011 and accounting for a 5.7 percent share of total silicon buying.

That’s a 34.6 percent increase over 2010— enough to jump two spots ahead of rivals Samsung and the world’s leading computer maker Hewlett-Packard (soon to be displaced by Apple). Apple’s rise stems of strong sales of iPads, iPhones and its popular MacBook Air ultra-portable notebook family. Samsung ranked second with $16.7 billion worth of semiconductors in 2011, a 5.5 percent share. Computer makers Hewlett-Packard and Dell and cell phone giant Nokia round up the list of top five chip buyers with $16.7 billion, $9.8 billion and $9 billion worth of silicon parts, respectively.

The results for HP, Dell and Nokia translate into 5.5-percent, 3.2-percent and 3 percent share of total chip buying, respectively. Apple’s achievement is interesting because it only makes computers, various accessories and mobile devices whereas Samsung makes everything from fridges and Smart TVs to notebooks, smartphones and tablets. Apple designs the A-series chip for iOS devices in-house, leaving manufacturing to Samsung. In fact, Apple is Samsung’s biggest chip customer. The South Korean conglomerate spent a cool $3.6 billion to build a factory in Texas dedicated almost entirely to producing the A5 chip shipping in the iPhone 4S and iPad 2. Last week, a report noted that Samsung is issuing up to $1 billion in bonds to expand the Austin plant, reflecting the continued growth of mobile device sales by both itself and Apple.

Corroborating Gartner’s report, research firm IHS iSuppli last week found out that Apple overtook Samsung to become the world’s largest purchaser of microelectromechanical system (MEMS) microphones due to sales growth of iPhones and iPads. Specifically, Apple’s MEMS microphone purchasing grew 173 percent from 128 million units in 2010 to 349 million units last year, a 27 percent share and the strongest growth among the major MEMS microphone buyers. MEMS microphones are commonly employed in smartphones and other devices, replacing conventional electret condenser microphones while providing greater clarity and reception of sound for the commands spoken by users into their devices.

According to IHS iSuppli Director and Principal Analyst Jérémie Bouchaud:

Apple in 2010 sounded the starting gun for the current boom in MEMS microphone sales when it adopted the devices in its iPhone 4. However, with the addition of MEMS microphones into the highly successful iPad 2 in 2011, Apple’s purchasing of the tiny devices went into overdrive. When combined with strong increases in its buys of MEMS microphones for iPhone headsets, Apple outstripped all other rivals to become the largest consumer of the devices, helping the drive the growth of the overall market.

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