Retail sales of mobile communication devices grew 19% to nearly 428 million units during the first quarter from a year ago, according to new data from Gartner. Of that total, smartphones accounted for nearly one-quarter (23.6%), marking an 85% increase from the same period in 2010.
"This share could have been even higher, but manufacturers announced a number of high-profile devices during the first quarter of 2011 that would not ship until the second quarter of 2011," said Roberta Cozza, a principal analyst at Gartner. "We believe some consumers delayed their purchases to wait for these models."
The research firm said the Japan earthquake and tsunami would have a lesser impact on the mobile market than initially anticipated. Currently, some six to seven weeks worth of inventory of finished products are in the pipeline, and about four weeks worth of inventory for components.
Gartner estimates that manufacturers' sales to third parties will fall in the second quarter, while retail sales will be flat. In the first quarter, Apple more than doubled iPhone sales from a year ago to 16.9 million globally, with growth in all regions. The company's signature device is now sold in 90 countries. "Considering the higher-than-average price of the iPhone, this is a remarkable result and highlights the impact that a strong aspirational brand can have on a product," said Carolina Milanesi, research vice president at Gartner.
Samsung had its strongest first quarter ever as it shifted to higher-end smartphones such as the Galaxy line. The 68.8 million units Samsung sold overall gave it a 16% share of the device market, second only to Nokia's 25%. Nokia's share, however, marked a 5.5% drop from a year ago to its lowest level since 1997.
While the trend from feature phones to smartphones is accelerating in mature markets, smartphones overall are being marketed to a wider range of customers. In that vein, manufacturers -- including HTC, Sony Ericsson, Alcatel and ZTE -- announced a broader portfolio of mid-tier, mostly Android devices that will become available in the second quarter.
Android continued to dominate the battle among the smartphone operating systems, with a 36% share of handset retail sales worldwide in the first quarter. Symbian phones accounted for 27.4%, the iPhone 16.8%, Research in Motion 12.9%, and Microsoft 3.6%.
Gartner noted that Microsoft sold only 1.6 million Windows Phone 7 devices after launching its new mobile platform at the end of 2010. The firm expects, however, that the software giant's alliance with Nokia will help accelerate Windows Phone sales over time.