Is Intel the captain of a sinking semiconductor ship?
Intel (Nasdaq: INTC) retained its long-held pole position in the worldwide semiconductor market, which declined 2.6 percent year-over-year last year, according to the latest stats from Gartner.
Intel saw a year-over-year revenue decline of 3.1 percent, as slow PC sales dragged down the dominant PC semiconductor supplier. Qualcomm (Nasdaq: QCOM) surged 31.8 percent year-over-year to the No. 3 spot in 2012 from No. 6 in 2011 on the back of its success supplying mobile phone semiconductors.
Samsung came in second with a 3.1 percent year-over-year revenue growth. Texas Instruments held onto fourth place in the semiconductor market, while Toshiba dropped to fifth place from the third spot in 2011.
"The normal drivers of semiconductor industry growth--the computing, wireless, consumer electronics and automotive electronics sectors--all suffered serious disruption in 2012. Even the industrial/medical, wired communications and military/aerospace sectors ordinarily less affected by changes in consumer sentiment suffered severe declines in semiconductor consumption. Excess inventory levels also remained a growth inhibitor," said Steve Ohr, research director at Gartner.
Recognizing its vulnerable position as a PC semiconductor supplier, Intel has been desperately trying to make in-roads into the mobile semiconductor market. Qualcomm and Nvidia (Nasdaq: NVDA) grabbed the early lead in that mobile chip market, and Intel has been playing catch-up ever since.
Intel has succeeded in getting its chips into high-end Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT) Surface tablets and has been pushing a marketing program using the "Intel Inside" branding on mobile phones containing its chips. So far, Intel has succeeded in getting its chips into seven smartphones available in 20 countries, according to a report by The Motley Fool.
Intel has already launched its Lexington chipset for lower-end smartphones, which are able to support cameras, 1080p video viewing, HSPA+, dual SIM cards and wireless video streaming through Intel's WiDi technology. Its Merrifield chipset, aimed at the higher-end smartphone market and due out later this year, will provide greater power efficiency and performance on a small 22-nanometer design, the report noted.
In China, Intel signed a partnership with ZTE to provide its Atom Z2580 processor for ZTE's high-end smartphones, according to a report by the South China Morning Post. "We are expanding into the mobile device field because this is a big market," Vincent Lee, Intel manager for southern China, told the newspaper. Intel is also teaming with Lenovo to provide mobile phones powered by Intel chips in China.
Intel recognizes that it must score in the mobile semiconductor market or fall by the wayside as PC sales continue to decline. Whether it will succeed remains to be seen.