Global smartphone shipments grew sharply last year as mobile handsets increased in capability and were made available at lower prices, according to International Data Corp.'s latest Worldwide Mobile Phone Tracker quarterly report.
In 2011, smartphone shipments rose to 491.4 million units, up 61.3% from 304.7 million in 2010, the report said.
This growth was higher than IDC's estimate of 54.7% but still below 2010's year-over-year growth of 75.7%, the research firm said. "Although this marks a slowdown from 2010, IDC still fully expects continued double-digit growth for the foreseeable future," it said.
In the last three months of the year, smartphone shipments grew 54.7% from the same period in 2010, the report said.
"Vendors shipped 157.8 million units [last quarter] compared to 102.0 million units in the fourth quarter of 2010," IDC said. "The 54.7% year-over-year growth was higher than IDC's forecast of 40% for the quarter, and higher than the 49.2% growth" in the third quarter of 2011.
The jump in fourth-quarter smartphone sales, IDC said, can be attributed in part to the launch of flagship phones from Apple Inc. and Samsung Electronics Co., as well as the availability of more smartphones across a broader range of price points.
"'Hero' devices, such as Samsung's Galaxy Nexus and Apple's iPhone 4S, garner the bulk of the attention heaped on the device type," said Kevin Restivo, a senior research analyst at IDC. "But a growing number of sub-$250 device offerings, based on the Android operating system, have allowed Google's hardware partners to grow smartphone volumes and expand the market concurrently."
The iPhone 4S helped Apple regain its spot as the leading shipper of smartphones in the fourth quarter of 2011, after Samsung took the title in the previous quarter, the report said.
"In the process it reached a new shipment volume record for itself and for the entire industry for a single quarter," IDC said of Apple, which said it sold 37.04 million iPhones in the last three months of 2011.
Samsung also racked up a record of its own, surpassing 30 million smartphones shipped for the first time, the IDC said. Samsung does not release its sales figures as Apple does.
Nokia Corp. accounted for the largest year-over-year decrease in smartphone shipments as it migrates its product offerings away from its Symbian software and over to smartphones running Microsoft's Windows Phone operating system. Nokia's first Windows Phone handsets went on sale last quarter, and the Finnish phone maker has said it has sold "well over 1 million Lumia devices to date."
For the whole year, Samsung was the top shipper of smartphones, with 94 million Android-powered handsets sent to retailers, accounting for a 19.1% market share, IDC said. In 2010, Samsung shipped 22.9 million smartphones and accounted for just 7.5% of the global smartphone market, the report said.
Apple came in second, with 93.2 million iPhones shipped and a 19% slice of the market in 2011, up from 47.5 million iPhones and a 15.6% share of the market in 2010, IDC said.
Nokia came in third, with 77.3 million phones shipped and a 15.7% share of the market in 2011, down from 100.1 million phones and a 32.9% market share in 2010.
BlackBerry maker Research in Motion Ltd. shipped 51.1 million phones last year, up from 48.8 million in 2010, but its market share fell to 10.4% from 16% as rivals saw a larger amount of growth.