Worldwide smartphone shipments grew 5.1 per cent in the first quarter of 2009 compared to the same period last year, according to the latest quarterly market overview by Canalys.

However, Pete Cunningham, senior analyst with Canalys, told the North American consumer market saw shipments rise in Q1 2009 by 22.5 per cent year-on-year.

He said North American market growth was being helped by the smartphone’s shift into the mainstream.

RIM, which was instrumental in the development of the enterprise smartphone market, still dominates but the emphasis is changing.

"The smartphone market in the US has grown up predominantly as a professional-focussed market," said Cunningham. "But since the iPhone launched, the dynamic has changed.

"Now smartphones are pushing into the consumer space and that’s aiding the growth."

The analyst said he was confident smartphone shipments would continue to grow in North America, although he predicted the rate would slow slightly.

Pete Cunningham, senior analyst with Canalys

He expected the Palm Pre, due to be launched on June 6th, to do well, as would the anticipated update to the iPhone.

Cunningham said that in EMEA smartphone shipment growth was 3.4 per cent in Q1 2009.

He said the bulk of growth was in Western Europe where operators were really pushing vendors to drive consumers towards smartphones.

There was also growing reluctance from the majority of operators to subsidise high tier proprietary operating systems.

"They are looking for vendors to support open platforms," he said. "There has certainly been momentum gathering in this since the beginning of the year which has caught some vendors out."

Among them is Sony Ericsson, according to Cunningham, with the majority of the phone maker’s offerings having proprietary OS rather than open platforms.

However, he said that moving forward he was confident the Western European market would continue to grow, especially with the prospect of a number of high profile launches imminent, including the Pre and upgraded iPhone.

Another factor that has been evident in the smartphone market is the practice of carriers agreeing "super exclusive" partnership with high-profile handset makers.

In the UK in 2008, this included Vodafone and the Blackberry Storm,T-Mobile and the Google G1, O2 and the iPhone.

Cunningham said this was likely to continue with the Palm Pre expected in Europe shortly after its US launch.

"The drive behind this is partly because operators are trying to focus on customer retention," he said. "And to do this they need high profile devices."

Another key feature in the smartphone market has been the growth in sales of touchscreen devices, shipments of which nearly doubled in Q1 2009 compared with a year ago, according to Canalys.

Cunningham said the success of the Nokia 5800, which had a "tremendous" first quarter, had really helped boost the technology.

However, he expected to see a lot more QWERTY keyboards on upcoming models – and touchscreen/QWERTY offerings like the Nokia N97 and Palm Pre.

"I would not be surprised if we saw more of this combination," he said.

"A touchscreen is great for browsing but, especially with the growing demand for social networking, a keyboard is very good for text entry.

"Software keyboards are sometimes not so great."

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