South Korea's Samsung Electronics Co Ltd said on Thursday it aimed to triple smartphone shipments this year to more than 18 million units as the world's second-biggest cellphone maker scrambles to make a mark in the fast-growing smartphone market.

Beefing up smartphone offerings is a key challenge faced this year by Samsung and its home rival LG Electronics Inc, which together account for more than 30 percent of the overall cellphone market but hold very small pieces of the smartphone market.

There'll be a big change in our smartphone strategy this year, Shin Jong-kyun, head of Samsung's mobile division told reporters.

We plan to strengthen our smartphone business this year by not just improving hardware offerings but also beefing up content, applications, services.

Samsung, which has about 20 percent of the global mobile phone market but only about 3 percent of the smartphone market, said it would aggressively promote its own open smartphone platform Bada, which has received little attention from handset vendors and developers since being launched late last year.

The focus of the handset market has started to shift to software with Apple and Google entering the market.

Traditional mobile phone makers have lost ground to Apple's iPhone and Blackberry-maker Research in Motion in the lucrative smartphone market.

Research house Gartner expects the smartphone market would nearly treble to 525 million units by 2012 from 179 million in 2009.

Samsung, which sold 227 million mobile phones last year, said it aimed to grow faster than the broader market by selling about 260-270 million phones this year.

Shares in Samsung were unchanged at 777,000 won by 0240 GMT, versus a 0.2 percent drop in the wider market.

(Reporting by Rhee So-eui and Miyoung Kim; Editing by Ken Wills)