Apple iPhone Tops in U.S., Global Smartphones for Q4

Apple’s iPhone was the top selling device in both the U.S. and the global smartphone markets during the December quarter, according to new research from NPD and IDC. NPD released a report for the U.S. market that showed Apple was the #1 device maker during the quarter with 43% of the market, while IDC said that Apple outsold Samsung and LG to be the #1 vendor in the broader global smartphone market.

NPD was effusive in its praise of Apple’s new iPhone 4S, which was released at the beginning of the quarter. The firm cited the new model as the main catalyst for Apple’s smartphone growth during the quarter, when the company sold a record 37 million iPhones.

“Attracted by a faster processor, improved camera and the Siri speech-driven agent, most iPhone buyers paid a premium for the iPhone 4S, making it the top-selling handset in Q4,” Ross Rubin, executive director, Connected Intelligence for The NPD Group, said in a statement. “The iPhone 4S outsold the iPhone 4 by 75 percent, and outsold the iPhone 3GS, available for free on AT&T, five to one.”

Apple’s iPhone did so well that it claimed the first three positions in the top five best selling phones. According to NPD, that included: Apple iPhone 4S, Apple iPhone 4, Apple iPhone 3GS, Samsung GALAXY S II, and the Samsung GALAXY S 4G.

In other words, Apple’s two and half year old iPhone 3GS outsold every other device from every other maker in the U.S. Apple currently offers the iPhone 3GS for free in the U.S. for new contracts.

NPD said that Apple’s iOS platform claimed 43 percent of the market, while Android claimed 48 percent, leaving just nine percent for Research In Motion, Windows Phone 7, and any and all other competitors to play around in. On the other hand, the chart below shows that Android did better when looking only at first-time smartphone buyers, where Android claimed 57 percent of the market and iOS claimed 34 percent.

NPD Chart

“Android has been criticized for offering a more complex user experience than its competitors, but the company’s wide carrier support and large app selection is appealing to new smartphone customers,” Mr. Rubin said. “Android’s support of LTE at Verizon has also made it the exclusive choice for customers who want to take advantage of that carrier’s fastest network.”

Global Sales

In the much larger global market, Apple still did well, according to IDC. The iPhone maker claimed 23.5 percent of the global smartphone market during the December quarter, up from 15.9 percent in the year ago quarter. Samsung was close behind with 22.8 percent of the market, while Nokia had 12.8 percent share. Research In Motion came in fourth with 8.2 percent share, while HTC was fifth with 6.5 percent.

IDC Chart

Source: IDC

“Apple climbed back into the market leadership position with the launch of its iPhone 4S worldwide,” IDC wrote in a statement. “In the process it reached a new shipment volume record for itself and for the entire industry for a single quarter. Although the iPhone 4S disappointed some detractors by lacking 4G LTE connectivity or a different size screen, demand was high for the device. In addition, the combination of holiday seasonality, the delay in product launch from 3Q to 4Q, and the addition of multiple mobile operators helped drive volumes higher.”

IDC said the global smartphone market grew some 54.7 percent to reach 157.8 million units during the quarter, well ahead of its estimates of 40 percent year-over-year growth.

“So-called ‘hero’ devices, such as Samsung’s Galaxy Nexus and Apple’s iPhone 4S, garner the bulk of the attention heaped on the device type,” Kevin Restivo, senior research analyst with IDC’s Worldwide Mobile Phone Tracker program, said. “But a growing number of sub-$250 device offerings, based on the Android operating system, have allowed Google’s hardware partners to grow smartphone volumes and expand the market concurrently.”