(This story was originally published Thursday)
DUBAI (Zawya Dow Jones)--Defying signs of a global slowdown, sales of mobile devices in the Middle East and Africa rose 16% in the first quarter, fueled a growing appetite for smartphones, while embattled Nokia Corp. remains the region's top handset vendor, according to research firm Gartner.
"I think the performance for the Middle East Africa (MEA) region has been good compared to the overall trend we are seeing," Anshul Gupta, principal research analyst at Gartner told Zawya Dow Jones by telephone late Wednesday. "Overall [global] sales in the first quarter were down 2% and that happened after 10 straight quarters of growth. If you look at MEA, the growth has been up 16% year-on-year."
Driving demand in the MEA region has been the increasing popularity of smartphones, with sales of the devices surging 35% in the first three months of the year, according to Gartner.
Samsung Electronics Co. is now the number one player in the smartphone space in the MEA region, after ranking fifth in the same quarter a year ago.
"They [Samsung] have done extremely well in this region and they have taken the share from other smartphone players and replaced other players like Nokia, RIM, and Apple," said Gupta.
In terms of overall mobile-handset sales however, Finland's Nokia is still the leader in MEA.
"It (Nokia) is having a good share in terms of the feature phones and smartphones combined," Gartner's Gupta said.
He also noted Nokia continues to perform well in emerging markets where smartphones have yet to really dominate.
"These countries smartphones sold are under 20% of the overall sales, so there is a huge potential. Still 80% of these markets is coming from feature phones. In those markets the local players and Chinese players and Nokia are strong," said Gupta.
Moving forward, Gupta said Samsung, who snatched the title of world's largest mobile-handset vendor from Nokia in the first quarter, could face stiff competition from cheaper Chinese smartphone makers in the coming quarters.
"Samsung has been growing significantly over the past few quarters. I am now seeing more competition coming from the local players and Chinese players," he said.
-By Shereen El Gazzar, Dow Jones Newswires; +971 444 61684; Shereen.firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright (c) 2012 Dow Jones & Co.