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Smartphone sales rise in Q1; RIM, Apple see biggest gains

Overall, mobile device sales were off by almost 9%, Gartner says

May 20, 2009 11:56 AM ET

Computerworld - Mobile phone sales globally dropped 8.6% in the first quarter compared to the same quarter of 2008, while smartphone sales jumped 12.7% during the same period, Gartner Inc. reported today.

The decline in the first quarter was the biggest drop since Gartner began doing quarterly reports in 2001, the research firm said in a statement. Even so, Gartner analyst Carolina Milanesi said there have been some signs of recovery in North America and China.

Worldwide, according to Gartner, 269.1 million units of both smartphones and other phones were sold in the first quarter, a 8.6% decline from the 294.2 million sold in first quarter 2008.

A bright spot for the smartphone industry involves the introduction of more touchscreen products during the quarter, said Roberta Cozza, another Gartner analyst. That was particularly true for mid-tier smartphones, although a range of capabilities for more expensive smartphones mattered most in lifting the segment.

Smartphone sales totaled 13.5% of all mobile device sales in the quarter, compared to 11% of the total for the same quarter last year. That translates into 36.4 million smartphones sold in the first quarter, up from 32.3 million that were sold in first quarter of 2008, a 12.7% increase in the number of smartphones sold.

Research in Motion Ltd. and Apple Inc. each had the biggest improvements in sales, with RIM selling 7.2 million phones -- 2.9 million more than a year earlier -- and grabbing a nearly 20% market share. Apple, meanwhile, sold 3.9 million iPhones, compared to 1.7 million in the first quarter of 2008. It also more thandoubled its market share to 10.8%, up from 5.3% last year.

Nokia remained the smartphone sales leader, with nearly 15 million units sold, just slight above the nearly 14.6 million it sold for first quarter 2008. Nokia's smartphone share declined from 45% to 41% of the total market. After RIM and Apple, HTC and Fujitsu rounded out the top five sellers of smartphones in the quarter.

Compared to overall mobile device sales, smartphone sales by RIM and Apple do not even rank in Gartner's top five. For all mobile devices, Nokia was the leader, with 97.3 million sold, or 36% share; Samsung sold 51.3 million, for a 19% share. And LG, Motorola and Sony Ericsson were third through fifth, respectively. Motorola, which sold 30 million devices in the first quarter of last year, saw the biggest decline, selling just 16.5 million in the first three months of this year.

Gartner said that Motorola hopes to reverse those losses with Android sales in the second half of 2009, but added a cautionary note: "Gartner analysts question how Motorola will be able to differentiate its offering when so many players in the mobile device market will be delivering Android-based products at the same time."

In general, Milanesi said the device vendors will be focused increasingly on smartphones. She predicted that mobile device sales will be down overall by 4% for all of 2009 compared to all of 2008.

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