Booming iPad sales and solid iPhone sales in 2011 led to Apple becoming the world's largest consumer of MEMS microphones, according to a new report.

Apple in 2011 increased its procurement of MEMS microphones by 173 percent to reach 349 million units, up from 128 million in 2010, according to IHS.

MEMS (microelectromechanical system) microphones employ a pressure-sensitive diaphragm etched on a semiconductor and are commonly used in mobile phones, headsets, laptops and camcorders. 

They have come to replace conventional ECM (electret condenser microphones) in many devices as they offer better sound quality, are generally smaller and cope better with extremes of temperature. However, MEMS microphones are more expensive than ECMs.

Apple uses two MEMS microphones in the iPhone 4 and iPhone 4S, one in the iPhone headset and one in the iPad 2. Samsung also uses them in its smartphones and tablets, as do Motorola and LG. 

"Apple in 2010 sounded the starting gun for the current boom in MEMS microphone sales when it adopted the devices in its iPhone 4," said 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's share of overall MEMS microphone consumption grew from 18 percent in 2010 to 27 percent in 2011, putting it ahead of Samsung whose share also grew from 19 percent to 20 percent over tha same period. LG's share slipped form 13 percent to 7 percent, while Motorola's also slipped, from 6 percent to 5 percent.

Overall global shipments of MEMS microphones rose to 1.3 billion units in 2011, up 82 percent from 704 million in 2010. MEMS microphone revenue in 2012 is projected to reach $493.5 million, up a solid 32 percent from $373.2 million in 2011, according to IHS.