Apple, RIM spark quarterly mobile-phone sales

Sales of cell phones dipped slightly in 2009 overall, but not so smartphones, which surged for the year and exploded at year's end, according to research firm Gartner.

Lance Whitney Contributing Writer
Lance Whitney is a freelance technology writer and trainer and a former IT professional. He's written for Time, CNET, PCMag, and several other publications. He's the author of two tech books--one on Windows and another on LinkedIn.
Lance Whitney
2 min read

Global sales of mobile phones dipped slightly in 2009 overall but did stage a fourth-quarter recovery, according to new figures from Gartner.

Last year, consumers worldwide bought 1.21 billion cell phones, a 0.9 percent decline from the prior year. However, a surge in smartphones from the likes of Apple and Research In Motion and in low-end devices boosted fourth-quarter sales to 340 million units, an 8.3 percent gain over the fourth quarter of 2008, the market researcher said Tuesday.

Selling prices also took a hit last year. Intense competition forced cell phone manufacturers to keep prices low, especially in markets like China and India.

Nokia, Motorola, and Sony Ericsson all saw lower sales and lower market share in 2009 from the prior year.

As the economy rebounds this year, Gartner expects prices to stabilize and sales to return to double-digit growth. But competition will continue to put pressure on profit margins.

Smartphone sector expanding
Smartphone makers in particular did well throughout 2009, selling 172.4 million units, a 23.8 percent increase over 2008. Sales exploded in the final quarter, reaching 53.8 million, a jump of 41 percent from the prior year's fourth quarter.

Apple, maker of the iPhone, and BlackBerry maker RIM both won share, scooping up a 14.4 percent and a 19.9 percent slice of the global smartphone market, respectively.

Apple's slice of the smartphone market rose by 6.2 percentage points, bumping it into third place in terms of global share.

Smartphones based on the Google Android OS saw growth last year too, increasing their piece of the market in 2009 by 3.5 percentage points. Sales of Android phones should continue to surge, though confusion over Google's presence in the market could put a damper on the party, according to Gartner.

"Android's success experienced in the fourth quarter of 2009 should continue into 2010 as more manufacturers launch Android products, but some CSPs (communications service providers) and manufacturers have expressed growing concern about Google's intentions in the mobile market," Roberta Cozza, principal research analyst at Gartner, said in a statement. "If such concerns cause manufacturers to change their product strategies or CSPs to change which devices they stock, this might hinder Android's growth in 2010."