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Smartphone numbers top one billion for first time

There's no question that smartphones are growing in popularity, but just how many of these advanced devices are actually in use? According to new data from Strategy Analytics, the number topped the one billion mark for the first time, in the third quarter of this year.

"By the third quarter of 2011, we estimate there were 708 million smartphones in use worldwide. After a further year of soaring demand, the number of smartphones in use worldwide reached 1.038 billion units during the third quarter of 2012," Scott Bicheno, a senior analyst at Strategy Analytics, said in a statement.

That works out to about one in seven of the world's population owning a smartphone. However, "smartphone penetration is still relatively low," according to Neil Mawston, Strategy Analytics' executive director. "Most of the world does not yet own a smartphone and there remains huge scope for future growth, particularly in emerging markets such as China, India and Africa."

That could change rather quickly. Mawston suggested that the next billion smartphones will be activated as soon as 2015.

The first modern smartphone was the Nokia Communicator, introduced in 1996. The Finnish phone maker held tight to its market share dominance for more than a decade, but that changed with the 2007 arrival of the iPhone and the rise of the Android platform.

The news comes shortly after the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) reported that, by the end of last year, 6 billion mobile phone subscriptions were in existence worldwide.