Globally, the number of smartphone users has risen above a billion for the first time ever, in the third quarter of 2012, a report released by US research and consulting firm Strategy Analytics stated Wednesday.

The huge rise in smartphone usage comes five years after the release of iPhone, as Strategy Analytics senior analyst Scott Bicheno noted in a statement: "The iPhone revolutionized smartphone design and it catalyzed industry growth. 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."

The research firm estimates that the number of users will double to two billion in less than three years. Strategy Analytics executive director Neil Mawston stated: "Smartphone penetration is still relatively low. 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."

Nokia Communicator, a brick-clamshell hybrid device targeted mainly at business users is considered to be the first modern smartphone that kept the Finnish telecom company in the lead until Apple released the iPhone in 2007, AppleInsider has reported.

Apparently the recent study findings appear to be in line with a statement made by Google Chairman Eric Schmidt during a recent interview where he said Androids alone will see one billion users by 2013.

However, Strategy Analytics does not offer a breakdown of distribution of users by operating system, but the sheer rate at which smartphones are being adopted is staggering, AppleInsider has pointed out.

Apple claims to have sold five million units of its latest iPhone 5 model since its release September but faces stiff competition from Samsung and other models powered by Google's Android software, AFP has reported.

Meanwhile, smartphone growth seems to be accelerating at an astounding pace. It took 15 years from 1996 to Q3 2011, to reach 708 million smartphone devices, but it took only one year for another 300 million to come online, Scott Bicheno, senior analyst with Strategy Analytics avers.