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Guess which smartphone company used the most chips in 2015

A new report on global semiconductor sales in 2015 shows a tiny 2.5% margin between the two largest chip consumers on the planet: Apple and Samsung. But who used more?

Published onFebruary 2, 2016


With questions like these it is always a case of Apple or Samsung – that much is a given. But you might be surprised by the margin between these two telecommunications giants when it comes to semiconductor consumption in 2015. The difference between the two rivals is so close it’s only just over 2.5% (note the decimal point). So, who dominated global semiconductor consumption in 2015?

Flashbacks and Forecasts: Samsung in 2016

Was it Samsung, the world’s largest producer of smartphones, the company that sold 40% more smartphones than Apple in 2015? Or was it Apple, with its massive spike in sales in China, thanks to its borrowing of the large-screened device idea from its arch rival Samsung? Between the two companies, they represent 17.6% of the world’s semiconductor business, purchasing $59 billion worth of chips in 2015.

Global semiconductor sales 2015

Perhaps not too surprisingly, it was Samsung that took the number one spot yet again. But for the company that out-sold iPhones by 40% to only consume 2.5% more chips is surprising. The culprit? The iPad. While Samsung has more tablets than anyone knows what to do with (including those trying to sell them), Apple’s iPad is still performing quite well, despite hitting its peak in popularity two years ago. Well enough to make up for a 40% shortfall in phone sales.

Snapdragon 820 vs Exynos 8890: the 2016 mobile SoC battle begins

But the real kicker to this story is who is making all the money off those massive semiconductor sales. You might recall that Samsung uses its own Exynos chips as well as chips sourced from Qualcomm in its Galaxy series. But guess who’s making Qualcomm’s flagship Snapdragon 820 SoC this year? Samsung. And guess who makes almost half of the A series chips used in the iPhone? Samsung again.

Worldwide Semiconductor Revenues 2015

Of course, other chip makers like TSMC are making bucketloads of cash out of the semiconductor market too, but only Samsung is making processors for the two largest chip consumers in the world as well as producing this year’s must-have Android chip for Qualcomm. Even as the semiconductor business is at risk of decline – topping $335 billion dollars in 2015 but dropping by 5% YoY – Samsung still stands to make a huge amount of money from it in the immediate future.

Samsung's consumption is already on the decline. At this rate, Apple will be the world's largest chip consumer by the end of the year.

However, you can see that Samsung’s consumption is already declining, while Apple’s is rising. Samsung’s demand declined by 3.6% in 2015, while Apple’s increased by 7.1%. So it was Apple that was responsible for the $800 million increase in consumption over 2014, not Samsung. At this rate, Apple will be the world’s largest chip consumer by the end of the year.

Did you guess right? Would you ever have guessed the margin was so close?