Apple is catching up to Research In Motion in a smartphone market that saw 54.7 million units ship in the first quarter of 2010, up 56.7 percent from the first quarter of 2009.
Nokia commanded the lion's share of the burgeoning market, shipping 21.5 million units for the quarter to take 39.3 percent of the worldwide market, according to research company IDC.
RIM shipped 10.6 million BlackBerry smartphones in the first quarter, giving it 19.5 percent of the burgeoning market for handheld devices with full HTML Web browsers.
Apple is hot on RIM's heels. The company sold 8.8 million iPhones, racking up 16.1 percent of the market. That compares with just 10.6 percent in the first quarter of 2009 and modest unit shipments of 3.8 million.
That's a growth of about 136 percent, achieved by selling solely through AT&T. IDC analyst Ramon Llamas attributed the growth to the effect of more iPhones arriving outside the United States, including in China.
This growth may continue when Apple launches iPhone OS 4 in June and with the eventual launch of the iPhone on Verizon Wireless' network.
HTC and Motorola placed a distant fourth and fifth on the smartphone list, but both are seeing strong growth thanks to their barrage of smartphones based on Google's Android platform.
HTC shipped 2.6 million mobile devices for 4.8 percent of the market, compared with 1.5 million units shipped in first-quarter 2009, or a 4.3 percent market share. That's a 73 percent growth driven largely by the Android-based Hero, Droid Eris and MyTouch 3G smartphones.
Motorola fared even better, selling 2.3 million devices to grab 4.2 percent of the market, up from just 1.2 million units shipped in first-quarter 2009 when it notched a 3.4 percent share. IDC attributes this 92 percent growth to launches of such Android devices as the Motorola Droid, Cliq and Backflip.
Motorola has said it hopes to launch 20 different models and ship 12 million to 14 million Android smartphones in 2010.
Llamas noted that the overall smartphone market growth signals that the segment is revving for high growth for the remainder of the year, particularly as we hurtle toward the holiday season.
"2010 looks to be another year of large-scale consumer adoption of converged mobile devices," Llamas said. "Consumers will gravitate to smartphones not just because the devices themselves look 'cool' and 'slick,' but because the overall experience aligns with their individual tastes and demands."
Llamas didn't mention the main reason consumers are snapping up smartphones, which is the applications they can get for free or for small fees.
ABI Research noted that application downloads from Apple's App Store (almost 200,00 applications) and the Android Market (50,000 applications) are booming. While consumers downloaded 2.4 billion applications from such stores in 2009, ABI expects that the download rate will peak at just below 7 billion by 2013.
ABI analyst Mark Beccue said application store downloads will decrease by 2015 as more mobile Websites host applications rather than users having to buy dedicated applications themselves.