Apple could clinch top mobile processor spot

Apple’s extensive use of indigenously designed ARM-powered processors in its iDevice lineup could help Cupertino propel itself past Intel as the world’s largest mobile chip maker by the end of 2012. 

Indeed, In-Stat Chief Technology Strategist Jim McGregor believes the mobile chip torch will likely pass to Apple before 2013 if smartphone and tablet sales continue to grow at their current frenetic pace.

“Apple’s continued success of the iPhone and iPad, as well as the stronger growth rates of the smartphone and tablet markets than PCs,” McGregor explained.

“The more successful Apple is, the more credibility it adds to the entire ARM camp and the more competitive the ARM camp becomes as a whole.”

According to In-Stat, Apple shipped approximately 176 million mobile processors by the end of 2011, which accounted for 13.5% of the market and trailed Santa Clara by a mere 5 million units, or 0.4% difference in market share.

As AppleInsider’s Mikey Campbell points out, Cupertino’s ARM-powered A-series processors – manufactured by Samsung – are already in every iDevice sold, while Intel has only just begun rolling its x86 Medfield chips for smartphones and tablets.

It should also be noted that Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster recently confirmed that tablets are currently in an enviable position to become “measurably larger” than the PC market as a whole.

 To be sure, Jaffray believes Apple will sell 12 million iPads in the current March quarter – with year-over-year growth accelerating to 156 percent.

And although global PC shipments were up in 2011 – a trend that is expected to continue in 2012 – analysts at IDC believe the long-term outlook for the market is somewhat murky. 

“2012 and 2013 will bring significant challenges for Microsoft and the PC community,” IDC analyst Jay Chou confirmed.

“[Yes], Windows 8 and ultrabooks are a definitive step in the right direction to recapturing the relevance of the PC, but its promise of meshing a tablet experience in a PC body will likely entail a period of trial and error, thus the market will likely see modest growth in the near term.”