Smartphone Sales Soar in North America

Sales of "smart" phones doubled in North America in the first quarter, outstripping the category's growth in the rest of the world, according to a report by research firm Gartner.

North American growth was propelled by the popularity of Research in Motion Ltd.'s BlackBerry phones and Apple Inc.'s iPhone, and bodes well for the rumored introduction of the second-generation iPhone next week.

Apple sold 1.73 million iPhones in the first three months of the year, taking a 5.3 percent share of the worldwide smart-phone market.

The iPhone was launched in the U.S. last June, and overseas markets have been added gradually. The phone is still not available legally in most European countries, or in Japan or China.

Smart-phone sales in North America were 7.3 million units, up 106 percent from the first quarter of last year. RIM, with a U.S. market share of 42 percent, was the main beneficiary.

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"Despite economic concerns, the smart-phone market continued to expand in the United States, driven by heavy advertising and strong marketing promotions as more devices reached mass-market price points," said Gartner analyst Hugues De La Vergne.

He expects carriers to continue pushing smart phones, because the associated data plans yield higher monthly subscription fees.

Worldwide smart-phone sales were 32.2 million, up 29 percent from a year ago, but half of that increase was due to the surge in North America.

The global market-share leader in the category was Nokia Corp., with 46.7 percent. However, its market presence is minimal in the U.S., and its models that don't fit well into the U.S. concept of a smart phone.

The Nokia phones can run a variety of applications and have advanced hardware features, but mostly lack the alphabetic keyboards and touch screens that characterize iPhones, BlackBerrys and Palm Inc.'s Treo and Centro phones.