For the first time ever, smartphones with touch screens accounted for more than half of all smartphone shipments globally in Q4 2009, taking 55 percent of the market. According to the latest Canalys estimates, touchscreen smartphone shipments were up 138 percent year on year in Q4, reaching almost 30 million units, in a quarter where overall smartphone market growth stood at 41 percent.

Canalys puts total touch-screen smartphone shipments for the year at over 75 million, more than double the 2008 figure. Total smartphone shipments in 2009 hit a new peak of 166 million units.

"Looking at the whole of 2009, it is no great surprise to see Apple at the top of the table of leading vendors of touchscreen smartphones," said Canalys analyst Tim Shepherd.

"But Nokia stands out as a very close second, seeing tremendous growth thanks to models such as the Nokia 5800 and N97. And Nokia was actually the leading vendor by volume of touch-screen smartphones in the final quarter of the year."

After Apple and Nokia, HTC and Samsung took the third and fourth spots, though Canalys notes that Samsung also ships a lot of touch-screen mobile phones that are not smartphones.

Independent research conducted by Canalys with 4,000 consumers toward the end of last year showed that 60 percent of those interviewed wanted a touch-screen interface on their next mobile phone. And although some existing users said they will switch back to a different interface, Canalys expects the overall shift toward touch screens to continue during 2010.

User interface (UI) design and the input technology vendors build into their handsets is a factor in attracting customers to particular devices, but Canalys points out that it is also key to enabling discovery, acquisition and usage of new applications and services.

"This is an area where Apple is still in an enviable leadership position, having built up a vast, easy-to-access library of content and applications that will help continue to drive the success of not only the iPhone, but also the other devices it launches, such as the iPad," noted Canalys VP and principal analyst Chris Jones.

"For vendors with similar aspirations, attracting developers to their chosen smartphone platforms is an ongoing challenge, especially as more platforms and application stores launch onto the market. Developer bandwidth is as big an issue for this industry as network bandwidth. And if you get it right, you have a much more effective lock-in when that user comes to replace their device, it isn't just about building new revenue streams."

Canalys research shows that Symbian remained by far the largest smartphone OS by shipment volume in 2009, increasing in absolute terms despite losing share to the much faster growing RIM, Apple and Android.

Canalys consumer research shows that the handset vendors whose users have the highest propensity to stay loyal to their current brand are Apple, Nokia and RIM. "It is no coincidence that the brands with the highest churn inertia are also the leading smartphone makers," added senior analyst Pete Cunningham.

"These devices typically demand, and reward, a higher level of time investment on the part of the user. If you have customized your device and set it up so that you can use your preferred email and social networking clients, navigation solution and other apps and content, then moving to a different platform becomes more inconvenient."

The capabilities of smartphones continue to increase, further distancing their functionality from other mobile phones and enabling the creation of a broadening set of applications.

Canalys estimates that the proportion of smartphones with Wi-Fi rose to 84 percent in Q4, while 83 percent had integrated GPS and 43 percent featured integral keyboards - new highs in every case.