Global smart phone sales nearly doubled in the third quarter to record levels, and Apple is now one of the top five bestselling manufacturers.

Research firm Gartner says cell phone manufacturers sold 80.5 million smart phones in the third quarter. It says nearly 1 in 5 of all phones sold is a smart phone.

“This is the third consecutive double-digit increase in sales year-on-year, indicating that consumer demand is healthy,” said Carolina Milanesi, research vice president at Gartner. “This quarter saw Apple and Android drive record smart phone sales. Apple’s share of the smart phone market surpassed Research In Motion (RIM) in North America to put it second behind Android while Android volumes also grew rapidly making it the No. 2 operating system worldwide.”

Although Nokia Corp., Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. and LG Corp. maintained their rankings as the top three cell phone makers, Apple Inc. broke into the top five for the first time with its iPhone. It has surpassed BlackBerry maker RIM for fourth place.

However, the iPhone is not the most popular smart phone. Phones running Symbian software, which comes loaded on many Nokia devices, are the most common, followed by phones running Google Inc.’s Android software.

“Smart phone operating system providers have entered a period of accelerated platform evolution, stimulated by more regular product releases, new platform entrants and new device types,” said Roberta Cozza, principal research analyst at Gartner, in a statement. “Any platform that fails to innovate quickly — either through a vibrant multi-player ecosystem or clear vision of a single controlling entity — will lose developers, manufacturers, potential partners and ultimately users.”

Nokia was No. 1 overall in phone shipments at 117.5 million, up 4 million from a year ago. Samsung was second with 71.7 million phones shipped, up 11 million. LG phones fell 4 million to 27.5 million while Apple shipped 13.5 million, nearly double its 2009 performance. RIM had 11.9 million units shipped, up 3.5 million from a year ago.

Sony Ericsson, which recently moved its U.S. headquarters to Atlanta from RTP, saw shipments fall 3 million to 10.3 million.

Last week, IDC reported that smart phone makers shipped 81.1 million phones during the July-September quarter – a jump of 89.5 percent from the year-ago period, when 42.8 million phones were shipped. (See the details here.)

So far this year, 200.6 million smart phones have been shipped. This is a 67.6 percent increase over the 119.6 million phones shipped in the same time frame last year, IDC said.

(Read the Gartner report here.)

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