Fourth quarter mobile phone sales typically outpace the rest of the year. However, according to the latest market study by ABI Research, the final quarter of 2009 was remarkable for the strength of smartphone shipment growth.
"4Q 2009 saw 25 percent more smartphones shipped than 3Q 2009," says analyst Michael Morgan. "Granted, the fourth quarter is usually better than the third, but 3Q saw only a 3.6 percent growth over the second quarter."
Individual handset vendors had plenty to be pleased about. Apple had its best smartphone quarter on record. Nokia did extremely well, shipping 21 million smartphones compared to its usual 15-16 million. RIM's BlackBerry had a strong showing as well.
The good performance was driven in part by falling smartphone prices and the introduction of entry-level smartphones generating greater appeal for new buyers.
Nokia effectively used its best weapon, economies of scale. The Apple iPhone maintained its cool factor. There were also some over-achievers -- such as the BlackBerry Curve -- which has actually out-sold the iPhone in some markets.
Apple benefited from expansion beyond their traditional North American market, increasingly gaining traction in Western Europe and East Asia -- Asia-Pacific iPhone sales increased about 500 percent year-over-year in 2009.
While all regions performed well, North America -- helped by mobile operator subsidies -- led global smartphone market growth at 30 percent, with Western Europe and APAC following considerably behind. Africa, the Middle East and Latin America all showed growth in the mid-high 20 percent range.