Worldwide mobile phone sales fell 0.9 percent last year to 1.2 billion units, but the market recovered in the fourth quarter thanks to the success of smartphones, the Gartner research group said Tuesday.

Sales in the final three months of the year rose 8.3 percent to 340 million units compared to fourth quarter 2008.

"The mobile devices market finished the year on a very positive note, driven by growth in smartphones and low-end devices," Gartner research director Carolina Milanesi said in a statement.

The 2009 yearly decline was nonetheless sharper than a December prediction from Gartner for a fall of 0.7 percent.

"We can expect 2010 to retain a strong focus around operating systems, services and applications while hardware takes a back seat," Milanesi said.

"Sales will return to low double-digit growth, but competition will continue to put a strain on vendors' margins."

Sales of smartphones, which offer users a variety of multimedia options, jumped 41.1 percent to 53.8 million units in the fourth quarter and were up 23.8 percent to 172.4 million devices for the full year.

The Canadian group RIM, which markets the Blackberry, controlled 19.9 percent of the smartphone market while Apple, with its iPhone, had a market share of 14.4 percent.

Overall, three of the five leading mobile phone makers, Nokia, Motorola and Sony Ericsson, suffered a sales decline last year.

Market share fell to 36.4 percent from 38.6 at Nokia, to 4.8 from 8.7 percent at Motorola and to 4.5 percent from 7.6 percent at Sony Ericsson.

The world's number two mobile phone company, Samsung, saw its market share increase to 19.5 percent from 16.3 percent in 2008.

At LG, also South Korean, market share rose to 10.1 percent from 8.4 percent.