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The worldwide mobile phone market grew 12.8 percent year over year in the third quarter of 2011 (3Q11), as smartphone growth declined in key mature markets. According to the International Data Corporation (IDC) Worldwide Mobile Phone Tracker, vendors shipped 393.7 million units in the third quarter, compared to 348.9 million units in the third quarter of 2010. However, the 12.8 percent growth was higher than IDC’s forecast of 9.3 percent for the quarter and stronger than the 9.8 percent growth in the second quarter 2011.

Nokia reversed a global market share on a sequential basis last quarter thanks to stronger feature phone sales in key regions as well as the clearing of inventory backlogs in traditional strongholds, namely China and Europe, which led to a sharp year-over-year shipment and share decline last quarter. The company noted Nokia’s smartphone fortunes could improve in quarters to come now that it has introduced the Nokia Lumia devices, powered by Windows Phone 7, to markets where its brand is still relatively strong and in areas where the company has lost share over the past two years.

Apple gained share and posted the third-highest growth rate of any top five vendor but dropped to the number five position globally. Global iPhone shipments declined sequentially during the same quarter that company founder Steve Jobs handed the CEO reins to Tim Cook. The decline happened as Apple readied itself for the 4S launch, which many waited for. “Apple’s ability to upgrade 3GS users to the 4S, for example, and make continued inroads into developing economies, where it has been less successful, will help dictate the company’s smartphone fortunes in the future,” the report noted.

In North America, new iPhone demand went unfulfilled during 3Q11, leaving the door open for other companies to launch their competing devices. Research In Motion (RIM), which had not introduced a new BlackBerry smartphone during the entire first half of 2011, debuted several new models running on the new BB OS7 platform. Similarly, LG, Motorola, and Samsung unveiled their own respective Android flagship models, keeping the Android platform front and center in the smartphone market.

"Smartphone centricity continues to be the hallmark of the mobile phone market," says Ramon Llamas, senior research analyst with IDC’s mobile phone technology and trends team. "Two years ago, smartphones comprised just a small portion of overall shipments among the leading vendors. Today, that proportion has grown considerably, thanks in large part to LG, Motorola, Samsung, and Sony Ericsson making Android smartphones a priority. At the same time, the growing presence of companies focused exclusively on the smartphone market–Apple, HTC, and RIM –also demonstrates the impact that smartphones have had on the mobile phone market as a whole."