Gartner: Apple Leapfrogs Key Competitors as Smartphone Ownership Explodes Worldwide

According to the latest data from research firm Gartner, worldwide handset sales to end users rose 32% in 2010 to 1.6 billion units. In particular, smartphone sales spiked 72% from a year earlier (reaching 297 million units) – rampant growth aided by, among many factors, the ten-fold increase in sales of Android-based devices.

Apple ‘s 2010 smartphone gains, however, are believed to have come at the expense of smartphone makers Sony Ericsson and Motorola. On Wednesday, Gartner published it’s findings, which indicate that the “the wider availability of the iPhone 4” helped Apple secure a 16% share of the smartphone market in the fourth quarter.

Sony Ericsson and Motorola, meanwhile, saw their market shares and unit sales fall last year as Apple rose to No. 5 on the list of top selling smartphone makers (in 2010, Apple sold a whopping 46 million iPhones). Nokia, Samsung, LG Electronics, and RIM took the top four spots, respectively.

From The Wall Street Journal:

But Nokia’s share of the total handset market fell to 27.1% in the fourth quarter from 36.6% a year earlier and for the full year 2010 its market share declined to 28.9% from 36.4% in 2009, Gartner said. The figures come after research firm Canalys last week said Android had toppled Nokia Corp.’s (NOK) Symbian as the world’s most widespread smartphone platform in the fourth quarter of 2010.

Gartner points to Apple’s 87% year-over-year growth as evidence that the company’s overseas push is working. At present, the iPhone is available through nearly 200 communication service providers around the world.