By Ben Simmons

Record sales of iPhones have helped Apple conquer a quarter of the smartphone market for the first time, as global smartphone sales jumped 50% in a year to 149 million sales Q4 2011.

2011 was a tough year for Nokia and Research in Motion, Gartner’s latest figures show, as Apple and Samsung further cemented their lead at the expense of proportionately declining sales from previously dominant manufacturers.

Smartphone volumes during the quarter rose due to record sales of Apple iPhones. As a result, Apple became the third-largest mobile phone vendor in the world, overtaking LG. Apple also became the world's top smartphone vendor, with a market share of 23.8% in the fourth quarter of 2011, and the top smartphone vendor for 2011 as a whole, with a 19% market share. "Western Europe and North America led most of the smartphone growth for Apple during the fourth quarter of 2011," said Roberta Cozza, principal research analyst at Gartner. "In Western Europe the spike in iPhone sales in the fourth quarter saved the overall smartphone market after two consecutive quarters of slow sales."

The quarter saw Samsung and Apple cement their positions further at the top of the market as their brands and new products clearly stood out. LG, Sony Ericsson, Motorola and Research In Motion (RIM) again recorded disappointing results as they struggled to improve volumes and profits significantly. These vendors were also exposed to a much stronger threat from the midrange and low end of the smartphone market as ZTE and Huawei continued to gain share during the quarter.

Worldwide mobile device sales to end users totaled 476.5 million units in the fourth quarter of 2011, a 5.4% increase from the same period in 2010 (see Table 1). In 2011 as a whole, end users bought 1.8 billion units, an 11.1% increase from 2010 (see Table 2). "Expectations for 2012 are for the overall market to grow by about 7 percent, while smartphone growth is expected to slow to around 39%," said Annette Zimmermann, principal research analyst at Gartner.

In the fourth quarter of 2011, Nokia's mobile phone sales numbered 111.7 million units, an 8.7 percent decrease from last year. "Samsung closed the gap with Nokia in overall market share," said Ms. Cozza. "Samsung profited from strong smartphone sales of 34 million units in the fourth quarter of 2011. The troubled economic environment in Europe and Nokia's weakened brand status posed challenges that were hard to overcome in just one quarter. However, Nokia proved its ability to execute and deliver on time with its new Lumia 710 and 800 handsets. Nokia will have to continue to offer aggressive prices to encourage communications service providers (CSPs) to add its products to portfolios currently dominated by Android-based devices.”

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