Apple, RIM, ZTE Big Winners in Smartphone Market 2010

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Apple, RIM and Chinese producer ZTE emerged as the big winners in the smartphone market in the final quarter of 2010, according to research firm IDC.

HELSINKI, Jan 28 (Reuters) - North American smartphone vendors Apple and RIM, along with low-cost Chinese producer ZTE , emerged as the biggest winners on the booming cellphone market in final quarter of 2010.

Research firm IDC estimated the global handset market grew last quarter 18 percent from a year ago, while Strategy Analytics said growth was at 16 percent.

"Mobile phone users are eager to swap out older devices for ones that handle data as well as voice, which is driving growth and replacement cycles," IDC analyst Kevin Restivo said in a statement on Friday.

The phone market has recovered from a slump in 2009 when the global economic slowdown dampened sales of the latest gadgets. Demand has surged for new smartphones like Apple's iPhone 4 and Samsung's Galaxy S.

Apple's sales of iPhones grew 86 percent from a year ago, while RIM sold 35 percent more Blackberrys than a year ago in its latest fiscal quarter to end-November.

Rise of ZTE

"The past year has been a highly disruptive period, as high-tier smartphone specialists and manufacturers of entry-level handsets with multiple SIM-card slots made gains at the expense of several established mega-vendors," said analyst Neil Mawston from Strategy Analytics.

Asian vendors like ZTE, Micromax and Spice have benefited in India and elsewhere from growing uptake of phones which can have several operators SIM cards, enabling consumers to switch to cheapest provider for each call. 

Strong sales of cheaper cellphones in China, Africa and Latin America helped to lift ZTE to the fourth-largest position -- following only Nokia , Samsung and LG -- for the first time ever, IDC said.

ZTE's phone sales grew 77 percent from a year ago to 16.8 million handsets, IDC said.

"While most of its shipments have historically concentrated on entry-level and mid-range devices, some of its recent success is directly attributable to its rapidly expanding smartphone line," IDC said.

Among top phone vendors Nokia, LG, Motorola Mobility and Sony Ericsson all reported declining sales for the quarter, losing market share to smartphone vendors Apple and RIM on the high-end of the market. (Reporting by Tarmo Virki; Editing by Lincoln Feast)