Smartphone sales surged in the last three months of 2009, with 25 percent more sold than in the preceding quarter. Apple's iPhone, the BlackBerry and even Nokia were the overall winners.

Fourth quarter mobile handset sales almost always outpace the performance seen in the rest of a year. But according to the latest market data from ABI Research, the final quarter of 2009 was remarkable for the strength of smartphone shipment growth compared to the rather lacklustre preceding nine months.

The good performance was driven in part by falling smartphone prices and the introduction of entry-level smartphones generating greater appeal for new buyers.

Individual 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. BlackBerry had a strong showing as well.

BlackBerry Curve sales

Nokia effectively used its best weapon, economies of scale.

The iPhone maintained its "cool factor" leverage, and, says analyst Michael Morgan, there were some under-reported over-achievers such as the BlackBerry Curve, which has actually out-sold the iPhone in some markets.

Both companies 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 operators' subsidies - led the pack in 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 percents, although of course they were starting from very low baselines.

"4Q 2009 saw 25 percent more smartphones shipped than 3Q," said Morgan.

"Granted, the fourth quarter is usually better than the third, but 3Q saw only a 3.6 percent growth over the second quarter. The robust strength of this market's recovery is very encouraging indeed."

"The United States is now the leading market for smartphone ‘mindshare'," notes Morgan. "Vendors view success there as a springboard to success in the rest of the world.

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