iPhone Overtakes Windows Mobile, But Smartphones Remain A Small Minority

Apple? (NSDQ: AAPL) overtook Windows Mobile to take the third largest share of global smartphone OS shipments in 2009 – but the overall market is sluggish, according to research from Gartner.

Nokia? (NYSE: NOK) is still the clear leader for handset shipments, but its share slipped 2.2 percent to 36.4 percent. In fact, all five of the top handset makers lost a combined 4.4 percent of their share to Apple and others, says Gartner.

Of smartphones, Gartner gives Apple 14.4 percent of the market, just behind RIM’s 14.9 percent. Along with the fall in Nokia’s hardware share, so market share of its preferred Symbian OS, too, slipped 5.5 percent. Gartner gives Android 3.9 percent.

2009 smartphone sales were 23.8 percent up from 2008, at 172.4 million. But they’re getting more and more popular. Q409 smartphone sales were 41.1 percent up from the same period in 2008.

But smartphones continue to play a pretty tiny role in the overall mobile market. There were 1.211 billion mobile handsets sold in 2009, but smartphone sales were only 172.4 million of that.

The popularity of feature phones and cheaper devices is also playing out. Samsung and LG (SEO: 066570), which specialise in both types of devices, were the only two of the top-five to gain ground in the last year. Worth noting that Samsung’s new operating system ‘bada’ is unlikely to have much of an impact here in the next year: Samsung says it will consider it a success if it gets near 10 million units in 2010 (versus 236 million units for Samsung in 2009).

At their current rates, Motorola? (NYSE: MOT) (4.8 percent, down from 8.7 percent) and *Sony* *Ericsson* (4.5, down from 7.6) look like they may not even make the top 5 in 2011. The “others” category meanwhile saw a healthy 4.4 percent jump, demonstrating the increasing amount of fragmentation in the market.

It will be worth watching how Android plays out in the year ahead. There were fifty Android devices counted around last week’s Mobile World Congress by one journalist’s count. But is it inevitable that will lead to an explosion in sales in the year ahead? Google’s Eric Schmidt says that more than 60,000 Android devices are currently being shipped a day, and that is just counting the phones out in the market already.