Mobile sales dropped in Q1 2009, but smartphone sales surged, according to research firm Gartner. Global mobile sales dropped 14.5 percent to 269 million units between 2008's fourth quarter and the first of 2009. Year-over-year sales were down 8.6 percent. “There were some signs of a recovery in markets such as North America and China, but overall sales in the first quarter of 2009 registered the biggest quarter-on-quarter contraction since Gartner began monitoring the market on a quarterly basis in 2001,” said Carolina Milanesi, research director for mobile devices at Gartner.

“This was also the first time the market contracted year over year during the first quarter,” Milanesi added.

While mobile suffered overall, Apple and Research in Motion’s products drove the thriving smartphone market, which grew 12.7 percent to 36.4 million units year-over-year.

Apple sales more than doubled in that period, with sales reaching 3.9 million in Q1 2009, while sales were 1.7 million at that time in 2008. Apple’s share of the smartphone market also doubled year-over-year, growing from 5.3 percent in 2008 to 10.8 in 2009.

Research in Motion, producer of the BlackBerry, increased its smartphone market share to 19.9 in the first quarter of 2009, rising from 13.3 percent during the same period in 2008. RiM sales grew from 4.3 million to 7.2 million during this period.

“Much of the smartphone growth during the first quarter of 2009 was driven by touchscreen products, both in midtier and high-end devices,” said Roberta Cozza, principal analyst at Gartner.

“’Touch for the sake of touch’ was enough of a driver in the midtier space,” Cozza said, “but tighter integration with applications and services around music, mobile e-mail, and Internet browsing made the difference at the high end of the market.”

Gartner does not expect mobile sales to rise until the second half of 2010, forecasting 5-6 percent growth for that period.

By Mark Alvarez