Smartphones are the hottest game in tech town these days, and the leader, Nokia ( NOK), is losing steam.

Market share among the key smartphone players shifted dramatically last year, according to Gartners' fourth-quarter tally. The smartphone industry overall grew 3.7% in 2008.

The big winners in terms of percentage gains were Samsung, Apple ( AAPL) and Research In Motion ( RIMM), up 138%, 112% and 85%, respectively, according to Gartner.

Smartphone Market Share
Rivals Nibble at Nokia
chart
Gartner

The only loser among the top five smartphone makers was Nokia, which suffered a 17% drop in market share, falling to 40.8% from 50.9% in the year-ago quarter.

Nokia's numbers are likely to slide until the second half of the year, when the Finnish phone firm delivers a new crop of smartphones.

Meanwhile, RIM has been seeing strong demand for its new Storm and older Curve devices. And some see hope for Motorola in its new Google ( GOOG) Android smartphones. There's also swelling interest in Palm's ( PALM) upcoming Pre phone. All these smartphones are expected to land this year.

Nokia investors shrugged off the nearly three-month-old smartphone performance data Wednesday. The stock was up 52 cents, or 5%, to $10.23 at mid-day.