Sales of smart phones jumped 12.7 percent during the first quarter, despite the fact that global sales of mobile phones slumped 8.6 percent during the same period.

So said Gartner, which said that the decline in the first quarter was the biggest drop since it began doing quarterly reports in 2001. Even so, Gartner analyst Carolina Milanesi said there have been some signs of recovery in North America and China.

Worldwide, according to Gartner, 269.1 million units of both smart phones and other phones were sold in the first quarter, an 8.6 percent decline from the 294.2 million sold in first quarter 2008.

A bright spot for the smart phone industry involves the introduction of more touchscreen products during the quarter, said Roberta Cozza, another Gartner analyst. That was particularly true for mid-tier smart phones, although a range of capabilities for more expensive smart phones mattered most in lifting the segment.

Smart phone sales totalled 13.5 percent of all mobile device sales in the quarter, compared to 11 percent of the total for the same quarter last year. That translates into 36.4 million smart phones sold in the first quarter, up from 32.3 million that were sold in first quarter of 2008, a 12.7 percent increase in the number of smart phones sold.

Research in Motion (RIM) and Apple each had the biggest improvements in sales, with RIM selling 7.2 million phones - 2.9 million more than a year earlier - and grabbing a nearly 20 percent market share. Apple, meanwhile, sold 3.9 million iPhones, compared to 1.7 million in the first quarter of 2008. It also more than doubled its market share to 10.8 percent, up from 5.3 percent last year.

Nokia remained the smart phone sales leader, with nearly 15 million units sold, just slight above the nearly 14.6 million it sold for first quarter 2008. Nokia's smart phone share declined from 45 percent to 41 percent of the total market. After RIM and Apple, HTC and Fujitsu rounded out the top five sellers of smart phones in the quarter.

Compared to overall mobile device sales, smart phone sales by RIM and Apple do not even rank in Gartner's top five. For all mobile devices, Nokia was the leader, with 97.3 million sold, or 36 percent share; Samsung sold 51.3 million, for a 19 percent share. And LG, Motorola and Sony Ericsson were third through fifth, respectively. Motorola, which sold 30 million devices in the first quarter of last year, saw the biggest decline, selling just 16.5 million in the first three months of this year.

Gartner said that Motorola hopes to reverse those losses with Android sales in the second half of 2009, but added a cautionary note: "Gartner analysts question how Motorola will be able to differentiate its offering when so many players in the mobile device market will be delivering Android-based products at the same time."

In general, Milanesi said the device vendors will be focused increasingly on smart phones. She predicted that mobile device sales will be down overall by 4 percent for all of 2009 compared to all of 2008.