In 2011, Apple became the world’s largest purchaser of microelectromechanical system (MEMS) microphones following the tremendous sales growth of iPhones, headsets and most notably iPads, causing the company to surpass Samsung Electronics to take the top spot.

Apple in 2011 increased its procurement of MEMS microphones by 173% to reach 349 million units, up from 128 million in 2010, according to an IHS iSuppli ( This represented the strongest growth among the major MEMS microphone buyers, allowing Apple to move up one position to take the No. 1 spot in purchases, according to the research group. Apple’s share of MEMS buying amounted to 27% for the year, compared to 20% for Samsung.

MEMS microphones are very small devices that employ a pressure-sensitive diaphragm etched on a semiconductor. The microphones are commonly employed in cellphones, headsets, notebook computer and video cameras, replacing conventional electret condenser microphones (ECM) while providing greater clarity and reception of sound for the commands spoken by users into their devices.

Although they are significantly more expensive than ECM devices, MEMS microphones provide a host of advantages in terms of size, scalability, temperature stability and sound quality. These attributes have spurred the adoption of MEMS microphones among major brand names like Apple and Samsung, resulting in rapid sales growth.

“Apple in 2010 sounded the starting gun for the current boom in MEMS microphone sales when it adopted the devices in its iPhone 4,” says Jérémie Bouchaud, director and principal analyst, MEMS and sensors, for IHS. “However, with the addition of MEMS microphones into the highly successful iPad 2 in 2011, Apple’s purchasing of the tiny devices went into overdrive. When combined with strong increases in its buys of MEMS microphones for iPhone headsets, Apple outstripped all other rivals to become the largest consumer of the devices, helping the drive the growth of the overall market.”

Apple uses two analog MEMS microphones in its iPhone 4 and 4S phones: one analog MEMS microphone in the headset sold with the iPhone, and one digital MEMS microphone for Pad 2 tablets.