Apple takes the semiconductor spending crown as mobiles trump PCs

Apple (s aapl) spent the most on semiconductors in 2011, beating out Samsung and HP (s hpq) to take the crown. HP dropped from the top spot, thanks to overall weakness in the PC market, while Apple soared upward on the rising tide of smartphones, tablets and the MacBook Air.

Apple spent $17.3 billion on semiconductors in 2011, driven mostly by the popularity of the iPhone, iPad and solid-state drives that ship by default with its MacBook Air. Apple’s spending increased 35 percent from 2010, when it spent $12.8 billion on semiconductors. HP, which had spent $17.6 billion in 2010, saw its PC shipments decline 16.2 percent year over year in the fourth quarter of 2011. That, combined with a lackluster year overall for PCs, drove HP’s spending down to $16.6 billion in 2011.

It is no coincidence that Apple’s biggest competition on the mobile device front was also its closest rival when it came to semiconductor spending. Samsung spent $16.7 billion in 2011, a 9 percent increase over its spending in 2011.

Apple’s massive spending on semiconductors is a result of huge sales of its products, but that kind of spending power will also help it continue to secure and maintain its supply-chain advantage. Expect to see the gulf between Apple and HP in terms of this measure of success widen further, as mobile devices increasingly overtake PCs as the central device in users’ daily lives and as Apple continues to shift its focus to notebooks and computers that rely more on solid-state storage.