Direct sales figures for Windows Phone 7 handsets have been remarkably difficult to come by since Microsoft's OS reboot at the end of last year, but here come the stat gurus at Gartner to provide us with their best estimate. 3.6 million of the world's smartphone sales in the past quarter were counted under the Microsoft mobile OS umbrella, of which 1.6 million featured the very latest WP7 software. That means Redmond partners sold more Windows Mobile devices in the first three months of 2011 than ones bearing the sparkling new operating system. Guess now we know what LG meant when it said the Windows Phone launch didn't meet expectations. Gartner sees these numbers as evidencing a failure "to grow in consumer preference" by WP7's launch devices, though it predicts better things ahead, with Nokia's participation helping to accelerate the platform's momentum. For more (much more!) stats relating to the global cellphone market in Q1 2011, click on the source link for Gartner's full disclosure.

Update: ZDNet's Mary Jo Foley prodded Microsoft about these figures, but got neither a confirmation nor a denial. The fact Redmond didn't bother to at least dispute Gartner's stats seems to lend them an added sliver of credibility.