(Dow Jones) - Smartphone devices have continued to pick up significant share in the wireless handset market as prices for the devices have fallen, according to a report from the NPD Group on Tuesday.

According to the report, sales of smartphones to U.S. consumers represented 23% of all wireless handset sales in the fourth quarter compared to just 12% for the same period last year.

Also, 66% of smartphones now run on 3G networks compared to 46% last year. Newer networks are crucial for carriers to be able to sell data services along with the phones.

The report seemed to boost the shares of smartphone makers got a boost in early trading following the report. Research In Motion (RIMM), Palm (PALM), Nokia (NOK), Motorola (MOT) and Apple Inc. (AAPL) were all trading on gains in the early hours.
The report also provided some encouraging news to the wireless handset market, which has been suffering from falling sales overall thanks to the economic slump. Another report by Gartner Inc. found that global handset sales declined overall during the fourth quarter and may not stabilize until 2010.

But even that report noted good news for the smartphone industry. In North America, overall wireless handsel sales edged up to 49.1 million from 49 million last year, with smartphones credited for the lift.

"Smartphones continued to be a driving force for consumers to upgrade their devices," said Gartner analyst Hughes De La Vergne in the report. "Introductions of new products such as the RIM BlackBerry Storm and T-Mobile G1 helped smartphone sales grow to account for roughly 20 per cent of total sales in the region."
The NPD report noted that touch-screen devices were the big draw. Apple led the way here with the 3G iPhone, while RIM put out the rival Storm and HTC launched the G1 - powered by Google's Android operating system. This year, Palm will launch its newly-designed Pre, another touch-screen device.