Spending on microchips used in smartphones, tablets and related wireless devices surpassed spending on chips for computers in 2011, according to IHS, formerly iSuppli.
Spending on semiconductors for wireless products totalled $58.6 billion in 2011, an increase of 14.5% over the $51.2 billion spent in 2010, IHS said.
By comparison, spending on computer semiconductors in 2011 reached $53.7 billion, up 4% from $51.8 billion in 2010.
Spending on mobile device chips topped that for computers first in 2009, but IHS said the shift in microchip spending in 2011 is part of a more decisive shift.
By next year, wireless spending is projected to soar to $72.9 billion, IHS said, while spending on computer semiconductors will remain flat at $53.4 billion.
Wireless comprises 24% of the world's semiconductor spending, making it the largest of 10 segments, IHS said.
Wenlie Ye, an analyst at IHS, said Apple's success with the iPhone and iPad highlight the importance of wireless in semiconductor purchasing. Apple spent more than any maker on semiconductors for tablets in 2011 -- $4.6 billion -- while Samsung spent $603 million and HTC spend $199 million.
Ye predicted that tablets will help wireless grow in the next two years, but said mobile phones and smartphones will still make up the lion's share of wireless semiconductor spending.
Overall semiconductor spending for all segments grew to $240.6 billion in 2011, up 5% from $230.1 billion in 2010, IHS said. That growth was modest when compared with a 32% expansion in 2010 following a 13% contraction in 2009.
IHS tracks 191 companies that buy semiconductors, accounting for nearly 80% of the trade.
Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed . His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org .
Read more about processors in Computerworld's Processors Topic Center.