The worldwide mobile phone market grew 14.6 percent in the third quarter of 2010, the fourth consecutive quarter of double-digit growth, according to IDC. Vendors shipped 340.5 million units this past quarter compared to 297.1 million units in the third quarter of 2009.

Diving into specifics, Apple passed Research in Motion to become the fourth largest cell phone vendor in the world. Last quarter, Apple sold 14.1 million iPhones, grabbing 4.1 percent of the global market. RIM meanwhile sold 12.3 million units over the same period and slipped into fifth place globally. This is bad news for the BlackBerry maker since this past quarter the company introduced its next-generation operating system, BlackBerry 6, and also launched the Torch, its first touchscreen/QWERTY hybrid handset. Furthermore, the gap will likely widen next year with the expected introduction of a CDMA iPhone model.

Apple and RIM posted the highest-growth rates among the top five vendors last quarter, but the top three manufacturers on the list remained unchanged and are still very far ahead: Nokia sold 110.4 million units (32.4 percent market share), Samsung pushed out 71.4 million units (21 percent) and LG sent out 28.4 million units (8.3 percent). At the same time, Sony Ericsson was displaced from the top five list for the first time since 2004 when IDC began tracking the top five vendors.

"The entrance of Apple to the top five vendor ranking underscores the increased importance of smartphones to the overall market," Kevin Restivo, senior research analyst with IDC's Worldwide Mobile Phone Tracker, said in a statement. "Moreover, the mobile phone makers that are delivering popular smartphone models are among the fastest growing firms. Vendors that aren't developing a strong portfolio of smartphones will be challenged to maintain and grow market share in the future."