Apple's global smartphone share reached 17 percent as iPhone sales totaled 7 million units in the third quarter, following the continued rollout of the iPhone 3GS in new countries, research firm Gartner said on Thursday.

Apple's average selling price is holding steady and sales in the fourth quarter should be even stronger as Apple starts selling in China, through one additional carrier in the UK, and in an additional 16 countries, the research firm said.

Despite worldwide economic downturn, smartphone sales surpassed 41 million units, a 12.8 percent increase from the same period last year, driving the overall cell phone market to grow 0.1 percent in the period.

Among the top sellers, Apple ranked third in the list, while Nokia and Research in Motion grabbed 39 percent and 20.8 percent of market share respectively.

Smartphones continued to represent the fastest-growing segment of the mobile devices market and we remain confident about the potential for smartphones in the fourth quarter of 2009 and in 2010,  Gartner analyst Carolina Milanesi said in a statement.