The market research firm said Apple's progress came amid a dismal third quarter for the global smartphone market, when sales reached their weakest year-on-year growth since historical data exists. Smartphone sales to end-users totalled 36.5 million units during the three-month period ending September, a mere 11.5 percent increase from the same period one year ago.
"The current economic climate is negatively impacting sales of higher end devices,Â said Roberta Cozza, principal analyst at Gartner. ÂGoing forward, we should expect the smartphone device market to continue to grow but at a slower pace."
Although leading mobile operators like Apple are subsidizing more smartphones to reach lower prices, they tie the device to two year contracts with monthly data plan rates which remain too expensive for average consumers, Cozza added.
Smartphone device share
Nokia maintained its No. 1 position with 42.4 percent market share in the third quarter, but for the first time it recorded a decline in sales of 3 percent on a yearly basis. At the same time, sales of Research In MotionÂs BlackBerry smartphones increased 81.7 percent, and Gartner expects the company will see a boost from its new products, like the new touch-screen BlackBerry Storm, in the fourth quarter.
For its part, Apple watched sales of the iPhone soar an unprecedented 327.5 percent, good enough to regain the No. 3 position in the global smartphone market for hardware sales, improving its share to 12.9 percent.
Worldwide: Preliminary Smartphone Sales to End Users by Vendor, 3Q08 (Thousands of Units).
AppleÂs shipments into the channel during the quarter approached 7 million units, which included about 2 million units of inventory fill that remained unsold entering into the fourth quarter. Gartner said it factored this into its market share estimate, which is therefore about 3 percent less than the 16 percent estimate reported earlier this week by financial firm Needham & Co.
Smartphone OS share
In terms of smartphone operating system (OS) share, Symbian software shipped on 49.8 percent of smartphones sold during the third quarter, which represents the first time the company's share fell below the 50 percent mark. SymbianÂs share was most affected by a decline in sales from Nokia, and Gartner expects the mobile OS developer's slice of the pie will continue to erode next year
Meanwhile, blistering sales of iPhone 3G helped propel the Mac OS X into the No. 3 position fora global OS provider rankings.
Worldwide: Preliminary Smartphone Sales to End Users by Operating System, 3Q08 (Thousands of Units).
"For the first time, iPhone sales exceeded sales of Microsoft Windows Mobile devices worldwide and in North America," Gartner wrote in its report. "In the shorter term, open-source initiatives like Android and Symbian Foundation will challenge Windows MobileÂs licensing model. In addition, the lack of a competitive user interface will continue to limit MicrosoftÂs mobile device usability when facing competitive consumer smartphones."
Regionally, North America was the fastest growing market, with a 68 percent increase in the third quarter. RIM and Apple led the region by combining for more than 70 percent of the smartphone sales, and Apple regained second position behind RIM with 25.4 percent share.
Smartphone sales in Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA) increased 14 percent year-on-year. The region saw NokiaÂs share decline nearly 8 percentage points in the quarter but still maintaining its leading position while Apple gained the No. 2 spot with 15.6 percent share, moving in front of HTC and RIM.Â*
The markets in Asia/Pacific and Japan declined 11 percent and 23 percent, respectively. In Latin America, despite the decline in sales for all handsets, the smartphone market grew 56 percent in the third quarter of 2008. The sales were bolstered by the official introduction of AppleÂs iPhone 3G across a dozen of countries, Gartner said.