More than 16.7 million smartphones and other handheld computing devices were shipped worldwide in the first quarter of 2006, a leap of 55 per cent compared to the same period last year, according to figures from research firm Canalys.
Much of the increase was driven by strong growth in Japan, which helped Asian shipments hit 46 per cent of the global total, exceeding output in EMEA for the first time.
The rise in Asian sales of smart handheld devices allowed local manufacturers to greatly increase their market shares. Mitsubishi and Sharp both rose from negligible sales last year to each seize about six per cent of the market in the first quarter.
Mitsubishi raised its quarterly profit forecast more than 10 per cent last month, citing higher than expected phone sales as a key factor.
The return to profitability at Mitsubishi's mobile phone business was driven by strong demand for new products such as the Symbian-based D902i FOMA smartphone series, according to Tokyo-based Nomura Securities.
However, despite the Japanese gains, strength in smartphone sales was more than enough to let Nokia expand its dominance of the entire smart handheld device market. The company upped its stake from 50 to more than 51 per cent, Canalys reported.
Despite weakness in Asia, BlackBerry manufacturer Research in Motion (RIM) also increased shipments substantially, adding some 40 per cent to take an 8.4 per cent share. Sales at rival Palm, however, were almost unchanged.
The Asian gains were good news for Symbian. "It is in the converged device arena that we are seeing the biggest changes," said Rachel Lashford, a senior analyst and research manager at Canalys.
"In addition to the shipment increases made by Nokia and RIM, Japanese vendors such as Mitsubishi and Sharp have achieved very high volumes of their new Symbian-based FOMA smart phones in Q1, catapulting them into the global top five.
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