Cell Phone Sales Surge

The global market for mobile phones surged in the first quarter, growing by nearly 22% over a year earlier when the market had declined markedly in the midst of a recession.

IDC analysts credited the growth to increasing numbers of smartphones shipped by manufacturers to retailers along with an improving global economy. Research in Motion, Ltd. stood out from the mobile phone crowd, entering the top five list of mobile device shipments for the first time.

Overall, vendors shipped 295 million mobile phones of all types in the first quarter, compared to 242 million in the first quarter of 2009, IDC said.

Such double digit growth "is definitely good news for the industry," said IDC analyst Ramon Llamas in a statement. "Vendors have been very vocal about their intentions this year, with some even launching new devices in the first quarter."

Growth is expected to continue through 2010, though not at the levels seen in the first quarter. IDC noted that shipments in the first 2009 quarter had declined by 17% from the year-earlier period -- one of the mobile phone industry's worst quarters ever.

IDC predicts that mobile phone shipments will grow by 11% overall in 2010.

Nokia continued to lead the worldwide market, shipping 108 million phones in the quarter. Samsung was in second place with 64 million mobile phones shipped, followed by LG Electronics, which shipped 27 million, RIM and Sony Ericsson which shipped 10.6 million and 10.5 million respectively.

IDC said RIM entered into the top five for the first time, replacing Motorola Inc., which shipped 8.5 million units.

Motorola has steadily lost share since 2004 when the market started to shift from simpler devices to smartphones and more expensive feature phones, IDC noted. While Motorola now ships Android-based smartphones, RIM and Apple gained more traction by shipping such devices over a longer period.

IDC noted that RIM is the only top five vendor that exclusively sells smartphones, which means the company sees the highest average selling prices among that group of vendors. In the first quarter, the company's BlackBerry Curve 8520 and Bold 9700 devices were popular in many countries.

RIM also appears to be making a mark with young consumers for the first time, IDC noted. "Strong consumer adoption, particularly among text-crazy teens, has also fueled demand for BlackBerry devices," IDC said.

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen, or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed. His e-mail address is mhamblen@computerworld.com.

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