"2010 looks to be another year of large-scale consumer adoption of [smartphones]" IDC analyst Ramon Llamas predicted, based on the trend in smartphone shipments. And updates expected this year for BlackBerry, Symbian and Windows Mobile are likely to spark even greater demand, he said.
A fourth generation iPhone is also expected this summer, IDC noted. Apple has announced its Worldwide Developers Conference will begin June 7 , the likely date for the company to unveil its next-generation iPhone.
Apple had the biggest increase for the first quarter of any of the smartphone makers, shipping 8.8 million iPhones globally, up 132% from the 3.8 million shipped in the first quarter of 2009, IDC said. Part of that increase was due to the iPhone's arrival in areas of the world outside of North America.
Apple shipped the third-highest volume of smartphones in the quarter behind Nokia, with 21.5 million and Research in Motion Ltd., maker of BlackBerry, with 10.6 million.
Following Apple was HTC, with 2.6 million phones shipped, and Motorola, in fifth place, with 2.3 million shipped.
Overall, 54.7 million smartphones shipped globally in the first quarter, up 56.7% from the year-ago quarter when 34.9 million shipped. The 2010 numbers include smartphones chipped by the top five companies and 8.9 million shipped by a variety of smaller manufacturers.
IDC noted that while smartphones are still a minority of all mobile phones sold, smartphone shipments (and probable sales) are outpacing the rate of all mobile phone sales. In the first quarter, smartphones accounted for nearly 19% of mobile phones shipped, up from about 14% a year earlier. However, the 57% increase in shipments for this year's first quarter was more than double the 21.7% increase for all mobile phone shipments .
IDC also said that growth is "impressive" since it comes on top of a 38% surge in the fourth quarter of 2009, typically the strongest quarter in a given year. "This demonstrates the tremendous potential of the market and the depths to which it plunged in the first quarter of last year," IDC said in a statement.
In addition to the new devices expected to hit the market, an improved global economy and wider consumer awareness of smartphones coupled with lower prices will enhance sales, IDC analyst Kevin Restivo said. "These factors will create a perfect storm of demand for [smartphone] suppliers this year."
In addition to a new iPhone coming this summer, Nokia is expected to launch the N8 in the fourth quarter with other Symbian 3 models, IDC said. Also, RIM has unveiled BlackBerry OS 6.0, promising a smoother interface on coming models.
HTC, meanwhile, recently announced the first Wimax phone on Android, the Evo 4G, which is slated for launch with Sprint Nextel later in 2010. HTC is also expected to launch Windows Phone 7 devices later in 2010.
Motorola has launched the Droid and Cliq, followed by six other models, and IDC said the company plans to launch 20 more in 2010, shipping up to 14 million Android smartphones this year.
Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld . Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed . His e-mail address is email@example.com .
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This story, "Brace for Smartphone Explosion" was originally published by Computerworld.