Apple had surpassed BlackBerry maker Research In Motion (RIM) and other companies, emerging as the fourth largest vendor on the global mobile phone market in the third quarter of 2010, research firm IDC said in a report released on Friday.

Nokia maintained the top spot in the quarter with the shipments of more than 110 million devices, followed by Samsung and LG Electronics. RIM slipped to number five, one place down compared with the previous quarter.

According to IDC, Apple shipped 14.1 million iPhones in the quarter while RIM sold 12.4 million units of Blackberry.

The fact that Apple joined RIM to become the second smartphone - only vendor in the top five ranking further showed the growing popularity of smartphones, IDC analysts said.

“The entrance of Apple to the top 5 vendor ranking underscores the increased importance of smartphones to the overall market. Moreover, the mobile phone makers that are delivering popular smartphone models are among the fastest growing firms,” Kevin Restivo, a senior research analyst with IDC, said in a statement.

Overall, vendors shipped 340.5 million units of mobile phones worldwide in the third quarter, an increase of 14.6 percent compared with the same period a year ago.

Among the top five vendors, Apple and RIM posted the highest growth rates in the quarter with Apple leading the way as it’s iPhone shipments surged 90.5 percent year-on-year.

Apple’s record shipment performance can be attributed to the introduction of the iPhone 4 in 17 new countries and regions in the third quarter, IDC noted in the report.

Looking forward, IDC analysts predicted that worldwide mobile phone market will be driven largely by smartphone growth to the end of 2014.

“The smartphone is becoming the focal point of the personal communications experience,” said Restivo. “As a result, new market growth will be increasingly generated by smartphones.” Restivo added.