"The year 2009 may have started with a whimper but by 4Q-2009 the global mobile handset market ended with a pretty reasonable bang," says Jake Saunders, Vice President for Forecasting at ABI Research. "We estimate 336.5 million handsets were shipped in 4Q-2009, up 15.1 percent QoQ." Competition continued to squeeze handset ASPs. In 4Q-2009, shipment-based ASPs were down 2 percent to US$117.55.

"Obama's stimulus package certainly helped save the mobile handset industry," Saunders notes. "Renewed consumer confidence in the second half of 2009 meant that shipments for the whole year only shrank 4.5 percent to 1.153 billion. Dire scenarios were mooted in early 2009. There is cautious optimism about 2010 despite the fragile nature of the global recovery. ABI Research forecasts shipments to expand to 1.2 billion handsets in 2010."

Despite Nokia's weakened position in the smartphone segment, it still managed to maintain 37.7 percent of the overall handset market. Samsung, the market-share juggernaut, seems unstoppable. Between June 2008 and December 2009, Samsung increased its market share from 15.2 to 20.5 percent. Samsung has benefited from a strong line-up of feature phones as well as a strong reputation for innovative smartphones. Korea's level of influence over the handset market is further underscored by LG, the third-largest handset vendor (10.1 percent). LG has been counting on its S-Class smartphone series to help it secure a bridgehead in the market.

HTC's market share did not fare well early last year, but its circumstances improved slightly in 4Q, to 1.0 percent share. Notably, HTC announced a revamped handset portfolio strategy, not just targeting high-end smartphones but also launching smartphones that appeal to purchasers with smaller wallets. These low cost "HTC Smart" devices will rely on BREW.