Smartphones have surpassed feature phones in popularity for the first time. (Frank Franklin II)

Despite high handset prices and expensive data plans, smartphones are steadily growing in popularity worldwide. Now, research company IDC says that shipments of smartphones passed shipments of feature phones in Europe for the first time, according to a report from mobile industry news site mocoNews.

Feature phones have been steadily losing ground to their flashier cousins for years, but their low cost kept them in high consumer demand. But as carriers offer cheaper smartphones — such as AT&T’s recently announced Impulse 4G — and more consumers turn to mobile phones as their main source of Web access, the market has taken a definite turn.

It may not necessarily be a good thing for the industry, the report says. The numbers also reveal that mobile shipments fell 3 percent when compared to the year before. That’s the first time that’s happened to the industry in seven consecutive quarters of growth, mocoNews reported. The shift may be attributable to the fact that customers buying more expensive, more functional gadgets tend to replace their items less frequently. (The report said the European economy could also be to blame for falling numbers.)

As is the case in the United States, Android phones had a larger market share than Apple’s iPhone in IDC’s European analysis. The war between Android and Apple is growing more heated in court and in the marketplace. CNET reported that research firm Ovum projects that Android downloads will surpass iOS downloads for the first time this year. The mobile marketplace is exploding on all fronts, however: The report said that Android will hit 8.1 billion downloads this year compared with 1.4 billion last year, while Apple could grow to 6 billion downloads from 2.7 billion.

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