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Apple bests Samsung as buyer of tiny mics

The maker of iOS devices bought more MEMS microphones than any other electronics company last year, a new study says.

The microphone on Apple's iPad 2.
The microphone on Apple's iPad 2.
Josh Lowensohn/CNET

Apple's purchases of micro-electro-mechanical system (MEMS) microphones during 2011 have put it ahead of Samsung as the largest buyer, according to a new report by IHS iSuppli.

The research firm says Apple purchased 349 million of the tiny microphones, which are built into its products, a 173 percent increase from the 128 million it bought in 2010. That beat out Samsung, which bought nearly 251 million units, representing a 90 percent increase from its own purchases in the preceding year.

IHS iSuppli attributes the massive growth, which gave Apple 27 percent of the MEMS microphone purchase market share in 2011, squarely on iOS devices--particularly the iPhone 4 and iPad 2. In the case of the iPhone, Apple was effectively doubling up on its purchases with the pack-in of a headset that includes a microphone, the firm offered:

"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," said Jeremie Bouchaud, IHS' director and principal analyst in a statement.

IHS iSuppli

Trailing Apple and Samsung in purchases were LG and Motorola, accounting for 7 percent and 5 percent of the microphone purchases during 2011, respectively. LG was the only company among the top four to see shrinkage in 2011, seeing a 2 percent decline in the number of MEMS microphones it purchased during the year.

IHS iSupply says the overall purchases by the four companies--as well as others that collectively account for 42 percent of the market--grew in 2011. Shipments hit 1.3 billion units, an 82 percent increase from the 704 million units sold the year prior. That uptick is expected to continue, the firm said, with revenues from MEMS microphones reaching $667 million by 2015.

Apple still trails Samsung in IHS iSuppli's listing of overall MEMS sensor purchases, a list that was last updated in May 2011. Fueled by purchases of 3-axis gyroscopes and accelerometers in late-model iOS gadgets, Apple unseated Nintendo from the No. 2 spot on the list, spending an estimated $195 million in the process.