iPhone 4S Ranks #1 In Q4, But More First-Time Buyers Choose Android

According to new research from the NPD Group, Apple passed LG and Samsung to become the top-selling U.S. handset brand in Q4 2011. Combined, the three available models of the iPhone (iPhone 4S, iPhone 4 and iPhone 3GS) accounted for 43% of the U.S. smartphone market.

Android, however, continued to see larger market share at 48%.

Together, iPhone and Android accounted for over 90% of U.S. smartphone sales, leaving little room for any up-and-comer like Windows Phone, or even the declining brand that is RIM’s BlackBerry.

Android’s market share may continue to grow, too, given that more first-time smartphone buyers were choosing Android over iPhone this past quarter, the firm found. Based on NPD Group’s monthly Smartphone Track service, 57% of first-time smartphone buyers went with an Android device compared with just 34% who purchased iPhones.

NPD suggests that the reason for these consumers’ Android preference has to do more with availability – Android has “wide carrier support,” the report says. Also helpful is Android’s large app selection and its support of LTE at Verizon.

The overall portion of handset sales that were smartphones also climbed in Q4 2011, now accounting for 68% of the total U.S. phone market. That’s an increase of 18% from Q2 2010, said NPD. The average cost per smartphone, however, hasn’t seen as much movement, down from $149 in Q4 2010 to $143 in Q4 2011.

Not surprisingly, Apple’s record-breaking quarter (its fiscal Q1, running September 25-December 31), led to the iPhone 4S coming out on top as the best-selling handset in Q4. It also earned the top three slots among the top five handsets for the time period:

  1. Apple iPhone 4S
  2. Apple iPhone 4
  3. Apple iPhone 3GS
  4. Samsung Galaxy S II
  5. Samsung Galaxy S 4G

Ross Rubin, executive director, Connected Intelligence for The NPD Group, said that consumers were attracted to the iPhone 4S’s “faster processor, improved camera and the Siri speech-driven agent.”

“The iPhone 4S outsold the iPhone 4 by 75%, and outsold the iPhone 3GS, available for free on AT&T, five to one,” Rubin noted.