Smartphone Sales Taking Off

Sales of new smartphones skyrocketed in the first quarter of 2011, but the list of which manufacturers are on top remained little changed, a new survey says.

Sales of smartphones nearly doubled during the first quarter of 2011 to some 99.6 million units, up from 55.4 million units in the comparable quarter of 2010, according to analyst firm IDC's latest Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker.

Beleaguered Finnish firm Nokia held onto its top spot with shipments of 24.2 million smartphones and a nearly identical 24.3 percent market share for the quarter. However, that reflects a share decline from the 38.8 percent share it held for the same quarter last year.

Meanwhile, Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) had shipments of 18.7 million smartphones globally. Apple's overall market share came in at 18.7 percent. This time last year, Apple shipped 8.7 million devices for a then-market share of 15.7 percent.

Apple's results were driven by triple-digit sales growth in the U.S. and China, the tracker said.

Although Nokia's deal last winter to put Microsoft's Windows Phone 7 (WP7) on its smartphones may eventually help the Finnish firm's share recover, those devices are still months to a year away.

In the meantime, Research in Motion (NASDAQ: RIMM) sold 13.9 million smartphones and garnered 14 percent share. However, that constituted a year-over-year decline from 19.1 percent in the first quarter of 2010.

Rounding out the list of the top six smartphone manufacturers were Samsung and HTC.

In fact, among the top six makers, fifth-place Samsung had the largest gain over 2010's first quarter. It surged from 4.3 percent to 10.8 percent -- a 350 percent change from last year. HTC also had a good quarter, with a gain from 4.9 percent last year to 8.9 percent.

The emerging boom in smartphone sales has several underlying causes, not the least is falling prices.

"Selection has proliferated from mostly high-end devices to include more mid-range and entry-level offerings ... [plus] pricing has become increasingly competitive, with even high-end devices available at low price points," the tracker said.

"Altogether, these add up to continued smartphone growth throughout the year," the tracker added.

Stuart J. Johnston is a contributing editor at InternetNews.com, the news service of Internet.com, the network for technology professionals. Follow him on Twitter @stuartj1000.