Apple AAPL and Research in Motion RIMM were the big winners in the first quarter of 2009, according to a report on the mobile phone industry issued by Gartner, Inc. on Wednesday.

Against a backdrop of weakening sales, smartphones — and in particular, touchscreen smartphones — were the exception.

According to Gartner, worldwide mobile phone sales totalled 269.1 million units in 2009 Q1, down 9.4% from 2008. But smartphone sales exceeded 36.4 million units, up 12.7% from the same period last year.

“Much of the smartphone growth during the first quarter of 2009 was driven by touchscreen products, both in midtier and high-end devices,” said Roberta Cozza, principal analyst at Gartner. “‘Touch for the sake of touch’ was enough of a driver in the midtier space, but tighter integration with applications and services around music, mobile e-mail, and Internet browsing made the difference at the high end of the market.”

Nokia NOK and “Others” — which apparently included Microsoft MSFT Windows Mobile — were the big losers in the smartphone market. RIM, however, grew its market share nearly 50% year over year, while Apple’s share increased 109%.

See chart below.



Curiously, Gartner reports that Apple shipped 3.938 million iPhones in the first quarter of 2009, while Apple reported selling 3.79 million in the same period. The difference, according to an Apple spokesperson, is that Apple reports the number of iPhones it “shipped in” to its customers, while Gartner estimates “ship through,” and includes the number of units it believes are sitting in inventory.