Consumers traded in their mobile phones for a smartphone at a staggering pace last year, according to the market research firm, Gartner, Inc.

The company reports worldwide mobile device sales to end users totalled 1.6 billion units in 2010 -- a 31.8 percent increase from 2009. Those numbers were powered by smartphone sales to end users, which were up a staggering 72.1 percent from 2009 and accounted for 19 percent of total mobile communications device sales in 2010.

"Strong smartphone sales in the fourth quarter of 2010 pushed Apple and Research In Motion (RIM) up in our 2010 worldwide ranking of mobile device manufacturers to the No. 5 and No. 4 positions, respectively, displacing Sony Ericsson and Motorola," said Carolina Milanesi, research vice president at Gartner. "Nokia and LG saw their market share erode in 2010 as they came under increasing pressure to refine their smartphone strategies."

Nokia loses ground

Though still ranked No. 1 and No. 2 respectively, Nokia and Samsung were clearly the big losers last year. Nokia's 2009 market share of 36.4 percent plunged to 28.9 percent last year. Samsung went from a 19.5 marketshare to 17.6.

As expected, Apple was the big winner. It improved marketshare from 2.1 percent to 2.9 percent. Apple sold 46.6 million units in 2010, 87.2 percent growth from 2009 -- growth largely due to expansion into new countries and the ending of exclusivity deals, which has made the iPhone available through 185 communication service providers (CSPs) around the world.

For 2011, Apple's main growth opportunity will come from adding Verizon Wireless to its list of CSPs in the U.S., Gartner analysts said.

New iPad?

Meanwhile, Apple may be ready to introduce a new version of its iPad tablet computer, which debuted a year ago. The Wall Street Journalreports the new model is already in production, and will feature a faster processor and built in camera for video conferencing.

The Journal said no Apple executive would comment, but sited sources as saying the new iPad will initially be available through AT&T and Verizon Wireless.

Since releasing the iPad a year ago, Apple has sold 14.8 million of the computers, which list at about $500. In the fourth quarter of last year, iPad sales contributed nearly 17 percent of Apple's total revenue.