The decline in smartphone shipments that isn't

Latest iSuppli data shows fewer shipments in Q1 than Q4, but the data's skewed

Global smartphone shipments were 97.2 million in the first quarter, up 74 percent from the 55.8 million units shipped in last year's first quarter, according to market research firm IHS iSuppli.

But many headlines about this story, including iSuppli's own, focus instead on the sequential quarterly decline in smartphone shipments from 98.7 million units in the fourth quarter of 2010.

(Also see: RIM co-chief: We're still a major player in smartphones. Really.)

Of course, year-over-year unit shipment comparisons are more meaningful, but this is the first time since 2009 that Q1 smartphone shipments were lower than those in the preceding Q4.

As iSuppli notes, "While many electronic products typically suffer a sales slump during the beginning of the year following the peak selling sales season in the fourth quarter, the fast-growing smart phone has been immune to this phenomenon during most years."

However, all of the decline and more can be attributed to Nokia, which saw smartphone shipments fall to 24.2 million in Q1 from 28.3 million in Q4, a 14.5 percent sequential decline. And that's more than likely directly attributable to Nokia's announced partnership with Microsoft, which won't result in shipped product until next year.

In other words, for many potential smartphone buyers, Nokia is dead in the water until then. That's going to have an impact on sales.

Apple actually increased sequential shipments by 14.9 percent to 18.6 million units from 16.2 million in Q4, thanks in large part to wireless carrier Verizon, which began selling iPhones in February, becoming only the second U.S. carrier after AT&T to sell the popular Apple handset.

Bottom line, according to IHS wireless communications senior analyst Tina Teng, is that this "decline does not change the IHS iSuppli forecast of 60 percent growth in worldwide smartphone shipments for the entire year of 2011.”

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