Gartner: Apple jumped to top semiconductor company in 2011

As the MacBook Air became more successful, so did semiconductor chip demand for Apple.

Ahead of Apple's first fiscal quarter earnings release after the bell this afternoon, the Cupertino, Calif.-based company already has something new to brag about today.

Apple became the top semiconductor company in 2011 as it gained a greater share of the smartphone market while its tablet business also grew significantly, according to the latest report from Gartner.

Another contributing factor was the MacBook Air, as success grew for Apple's now entry-level laptop line, so did its semiconductor chip demand. Simultaneously, many PC vendors decreased their total semiconductor demand.

The top electronic equipment manufacturers accounted for at least 35 percent of semiconductor vendor revenue worldwide, or $105.6 billion -- an increase of $1.8 billion, or 1.8 percent from 2010.

Masatsune Yamaji, a principal research analyst at Gartner, explained in the report that the major growth drivers for this sector last year were smartphones, media tablets and solid-state drives.

Those companies that gained share in the smartphone market, such as Apple, Samsung Electronics and HTC, increased their semiconductor demand, while those who lost market share in this segment, such as Nokia and LG Electronics, decreased their semiconductor demand. Media tablets were also a growth driver for the semiconductor market throughout 2011.

Yet, Yamaji warned that Apple and other leaders can't get too comfortable, adding that "given the rapidly changing competitive structure of the IT and electronics industry, no semiconductor device vendor can afford just to monitor the requirements of the current market leader."