Smartphone sales grew 12.7 per cent in the first quarter of 2009 despite sharply falling sales of mobile phones generally – down 9.4 per cent year-on-year.

Leading the charge in high-end device sales were RIM’s Blackberry handsets and Apple’s iPhone, along with a number of other touchscreen phones, according to research firm Gartner.

Sales of RIM handsets totalled 7.23 million in Q1, or 19.9 per cent of the smartphone market, up from 13.3 per cent in the same period last year.

Over the same period, the iPhone’s market share more than doubled from 5.3 per cent to 10.8 per cent, with sales of 3,94 million devices.

The growth makes Apple the third-largest smartphone maker in the world and gives it twice as much share as HTC.

Nokia remained the leading maker of smartphones in Q1 but saw its market share drop to 41.2 per cent from 45.1 in Q1 2008. It sold 14.99 million devices, up slightly from 14.58 million in the same period last year.

The Finnish giant’s smartphone sales were helped by the introduction of its 5800 device into more regions.

Nokia started shipping its 5800 touch screen smartphone at the end of 2008.

Overall Smartphone sales were 36.4 million units, which accounted for 13.5 per cent of all mobile device sales in the first quarter of 2009 compared with 11 per cent in the first quarter of 2008.

However, worldwide mobile phone sales totalled 269.1 million units in Q1 2009, a 9.4 per cent decrease from the first quarter of 2008.

Roberta Cozza, principal analyst at Gartner, said the positive performances by RIM and Apple showed that services and applications are now instrumental to smartphones’ success.

She said that much of the smartphone growth during the first quarter of 2009 was driven by touchscreen products, both in midtier and high-end devices.

"Touch for the sake of touch was enough of a driver in the midtier space, but tighter integration with applications and services around music, mobile e-mail, and Internet browsing made the difference at the high end of the market," she said.

Symbian accounted for 49.3 per cent of worldwide smartphone operating systems (OS) market share in the first quarter of 2009, but this was down from 56.9 per cent share in the first quarter of 2008.

Nokia maintained its leading position in the overall mobile market, although its market share dropped to 36.2 per cent from 39.1 per cent a year earlier.

Samsung’s market share rose 4.7 percentage points to 19.1 per cent and Gartner said the announcement of its first Android-based product, the i7500, will help Samsung in a highly competitive second half of 2009.

LG’s market share increased slightly to 9.9 per cent, with the company benefitting from a very strong portfolio of touchscreen, messaging and imaging devices.

Carolina Milanesi, research director for mobile devices at Gartner, said there are some signs of a recovery in markets such as North America and China.

But she said that overall sales in the first quarter of 2009 registered the biggest quarter-on-quarter contraction since Gartner began monitoring the market on a quarterly basis in 2001.

"This was also the first time the market contracted year over year during the first quarter, a period traditionally helped by strong seasonality in the Asia/Pacific market," she said.

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