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Apple has become biggest buyer of semiconductors, Gartner says

Rising sales of smartphones, tablets and laptops pushed up Apple's semiconductor spending

Apple became the biggest buyer of semiconductors last year, ahead of Samsung Electronics and Hewlett-Packard, Gartner said on Tuesday.

Apple's increased semiconductor spending is the result of a number of factors. The company sold more smartphones, and its tablet business was also highly successful in 2011, according to Gartner. The success of the MacBook Air also increased Apple's semiconductor demand, it said.

Apple spent a total of US$17.3 billion on semiconductors during 2011, compared to $12.8 billion during 2010, according to Gartner's estimates.

In general, smartphones, tablets and solid-state drives were the major spending drivers in 2011, according to Gartner.

Samsung remained the second-largest semiconductor purchaser, thanks to its improving fortunes in the smartphone sector. The company's semiconductor spending grew by 9.2 percent to $16.7 billion.

With semiconductor products such as memory priced as commodities, PC and phone vendors' semiconductor spending is related to sales of their finished products.

The shaky PC market pushed HP's semiconductor spending down. HP was still the largest PC maker in the fourth quarter of 2011, but shipments declined 16.2 percent year-over-year, Gartner recently said. HP spent a total of $16.6 billion on semiconductors during 2011, compared to $17.6 billion during the 2010.

Nokia's semiconductor spending, on the other hand, dropped over 20 percent to around $9 billion, making it the fifth-largest chip buyer, behind Dell but ahead of Sony (excluding Sony-Ericsson) and Toshiba.

In eighth place was Lenovo, which saw the strongest growth among the top five PC vendors during the fourth quarter, as its shipments grew 23 percent. It also increased its semiconductor spend by 23.7 percent to $7.5 billion, Gartner estimated.

The top ten semiconductor buyers spent $105.6 billion, or 35 percent of semiconductor vendors' worldwide chip revenue, according to Gartner.

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