January 25, 2012 - Given the ascension of smartphones, it's no surprise that Samsung and Apple remain far and away the biggest end-users of semiconductors, and are widening their lead on the rest of the field, according to the latest Gartner rankings.
Together they consumed $45.3 billion worth of semiconductors in 2012, nearly $8 billion more than in 2011, growing double-digits while overall chip consumption fell -3% (and several top-10 chip consumers actually fell by double-digits). They now represent 15% of the entire market for chips, up from 12% in 2011. (Samsung also has a big IDM foundry operation by which it supplies chips to others, including Apple.)
A weak macroeconomic environment, and a "dramatic change" in consumer demand hampered overall semiconductor demand in 2012, explained Masatsune Yamaji, principal research analyst at Gartner. The PC market still represented the largest end application, but the market noticeably shifted from traditional desktop and mobile PCs to mobile devices such as smartphones and media tablets which contain less semiconductor content.
On the flip side, the limited computing and storage capabilities of new mobile computing devices will require more resources in cloud computing services, meaning data centers and communications infrastructure will continue to be a key demand driver for semiconductors, Yamaji pointed out. Another factor in mobile computing devices: there's been very little hardware differentiation, as new capabilities are quickly proliferated among other hardware vendors with commercial system-on-chip (SoC), software, and reference designs. "Semiconductor vendors must aid, or at least monitor, the hardware innovations of the market leaders," he says.
Top 10 semiconductor design total available market (preliminary) in US $B. (Source: Gartner)