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Gartner sees slowdown in smartphone sales growth

Amid a general fourth-quarter slowdown in sales growth, Samsung and RIM made significant gains with their latest handsets
Written by David Meyer, Contributor

The growth in smartphone sales slowed down significantly in the fourth quarter of last year, according to research from Gartner.

In estimates published on Wednesday, Gartner said global smartphone sales for the whole of 2008 reached 139.3 million units, a rise of 13.9 percent on the previous year. In the fourth quarter, however, year-on-year growth dropped to 3.7 percent. The quarter did, however, see a new entrant in the top-five smartphone manufacturers, in the shape of Samsung.

"After a strong third quarter with new product introductions, sequential growth slowed down again in the fourth quarter as fewer compelling new products and the worsened economic climate continued to make data plans associated with smartphones out of reach for most consumers," Roberta Cozza, a Gartner research director, said in a statement.

Samsung sold 1.6 million smartphones in the fourth quarter of 2008, compared with 671,500 in the same quarter of 2007. The total represents growth of 138 percent. "Most of it is the [Windows Mobile-based] Omnia, and most of it is in western Europe," Cozza told ZDNet UK on Wednesday. "They've been very successful with this, mostly through very good marketing."

Nokia held its top spot in the smartphone sales rankings, with 15.6 million units sold in the quarter. However, this was 16.8 percent down on the same quarter in 2007.

RIM, Apple and HTC — in second, third and fourth places respectively — all showed year-on-year growth. RIM's BlackBerry sales grew by 84.9 percent, Apple's iPhone sales grew by 111.6 percent and HTC's own-branded smartphone sales grew by 19.9 percent.

Cozza also pointed out that Android handsets — specifically, the T-Mobile G1, which is the only Android handset currently on the market — accounted for 20 percent of all Linux smartphone sales in the fourth quarter of last year. The other 80 percent were handsets produced by manufacturers such as NEC, Panasonic and Sony Ericsson, that are sold only in Asia.

A total of around 640,000 Android handsets were shipped in the fourth quarter, with roughly 445,000 being bought in the US and the rest in western Europe.

Cozza predicted that new Android devices from the likes of Samsung, expected later this year, would contribute to a "ramp-up" in the smartphone market in the second half of 2009.

"We still predict 25 percent year-on-year growth in the smartphone market — which is not a lot for the smartphone market," she said.

Cozza added that there was currently speculation about the possible launch of an updated or lower-end device from Apple, that would be likely to appear around June or at the beginning of the summer.

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