China's ZTE Wireless, a maker of budget Android smart phones grew more than any other smart phone manufacturer, including Apple. It passed Apple to reach fourth place in global sales.  (Source: Flickr/RCR Wireless)
Nokia continues to slump

Market research firm IDC, a subsidiary of IDG, has published its latest numbers [press release] on global cell phone use.  While global sales do not always track U.S. sales, what happens in the U.S. -- as one of the largest cell phone markets along with China, the EU, and Japan -- does often affect sales globally.

This year's report showed that worldwide cell phone use grew 18.5 percent from 2009.  Vendors shipped 1.39 billion units cumulatively, up from 1.17 billion units shipped the previous year.  The IDC says that growth was driven by strong smart phone sales.

States IDC senior analyst Kevin Restivo, one of the report's authors, "The mobile phone market has the wind behind its sails. Mobile phone users are eager to swap out older devices for ones that handle data as well as voice, which is driving growth and replacement cycles."

One loser in the report was Nokia, who grew shipments 4.9 percent on the year worldwide, but ended the year with a 2.4 percent quarterly year-to-year drop in shipments.  Nokia, the world's largest phone maker, saw sales grow a modest 22 million units, but was outpaced in growth by its competitors.

LG was the other big loser.  The company struggled at exploiting the smartphone market, selling a number of less popular proprietary handsets, and only recently trying to bring more Android handsets to market.  Sales dropped from 117.9 million units in 2009 to 116.7 million units in 2010.

Samsung, fueled in part by strong Android sales solidified its number two position in global sales, with a 23.3 percent increase in shipments.  And Chinese budget Android smart phone maker ZTE was the biggest winner, with an incredible 94 percent year-to-year growth in shipments.

Close behind was Apple, who sold 47.5 million units globally, an 89.2 percent year-to-year growth.  Apple currently sits in fifth place in global sales, an impressive mark considering that Apple designs its own operating system (iOS) and only offers one current-generation phone model (the iPhone 4).

IDC did not break down its sales by operating system (e.g. Android versus iOS) yet, but Kevin Restivo says those numbers are coming.  He writes us, "We are going to detail mobile phone sales by operating system on the 23rd. We should be able to talk about our results afterwards."

American phone maker Research in Motion, who holds on to a decent chunk of the U.S. market, did not make the top five in global sales.  Sony Ericsson, who was bumped out of the top five last year, also failed to make the list.

“Then they pop up and say ‘Hello, surprise! Give us your money or we will shut you down!' Screw them. Seriously, screw them. You can quote me on that.” -- Newegg Chief Legal Officer Lee Cheng referencing patent trolls
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