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Apple shares of smartphone market up more than twofold

Apple saw its share of global smartphone market more than double on a year-over-year basis during the first quarter of the year but still has much work to do before catching BlackBerry maker Research in Motion and market leader Nokia.

For the three-month period ending March, Apple's shipments of roughly 3.94 million iPhones garnered a 10.8% share of the worldwide smartphone market, according to data released Wednesday by market research firm Gartner. That was good enough for the Cupertino-based company to maintain its third-place ranking overall with twice the share of HTC, which shipped 1.96 million devices to register a 5.4% share.

Still, Apple trails arch rival Research in Motion (RIM), whose sales of more than 7.23 million BlackBerries helped it achieve nearly 20% market share, and leader Nokia, which sold almost 15 million handsets for a commanding 41.2% share of the market. Fujitsu ranked fifth overall in smartphone shipments, selling nearly 1.39 million devices for 3.8% share.

Gartner said that worldwide mobile phone sales totalled 269.1 million units during the quarter, a 8.6% decrease from the first quarter of 2008. However, the smartphone segment of the market fared much better, surpassing 36.4 million units, a 12.7% increase from the same period last year.

Smartphone sales also represented an increasing slice of the global handset market at 13.5%, up from 11% during the same quarter of 2008. Gartner attributed the growth to the positive performance of both RIM and Apple, which continue to demonstrate that attractive services and applications are instrumental to the success of the integrated devices.

"Much of the smartphone growth during the first quarter of 2009 was driven by touchscreen products, both in midtier and high-end devices," said analyst Roberta Cozza. "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."

Although Apple saw sales jump more than 100%, its 10.8% share of the market isn't the highest its achieved during its short tenure as a smartphone maker. The company actually registered a near 13% share of the market back in the third quarter of 2008, immediately following the launch of its second-generation iPhone.

For the current second quarter of 2009 ending June, Apple's likely to see its share of the market recede slightly as consumers start delaying their handset purchases in anticipation of third-generation iPhones that should arrive by summer. Therefore, a more accurate benchmark of the company's momentum in the mobile space may come during the third quarter of the year when sales of those new handsets can be weighed against figures from the 2008 iPhone 3G launch.