Nokia still tops the smartphone market with sales of 60.9 million handsets last year for a total global market share of 43.7 per cent.

But the Finnish phone-maker’s sales grew by just 0.8 per cent and its market share dropped from 49.4 per cent, with rivals Research In Motion (RIM) and Apple taking bigger slices of the smartphone pie.

Research firm Gartner said Nokia still has more than double the market share of its closest competitor, RIM, which has 16.6 per cent.

It points to the introduction of high-profile handsets by competitors as a key factor in Nokia’s slipping market share.

The researchers predict that while Nokia’s low-end smartphones will continue to fare well, its higher-end N series handsets are in for a tough ride.

RIM, on the other hand, has profited from new devices, such as the BlackBerry Bold and the BlackBerry Storm, which have taken its market share from 9.6 per cent in 2007 to 16.6 per cent in 2008.

Generally, Gartner said worldwide sales of smartphones had grown at their slowest pace yet in the fourth quarter of 2008 as the financial crisis hit demand.

It said an estimated 38.14 million smartphones sold in the three months to December, an increase of 3.7 per cent over the same period in 2007.

This is the slowest rise since Gartner began tracking the market for smartphones in 2003.

Nokia suffered a 16.8 per cent drop in sales during the December quarter.

Total smartphone sales in 2008 reached 139.3 million units, up almost 14 per cent over the previous year.

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