Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) is the world's top-selling smartphone, but more first-time smartphone buyers purchased a handset based on Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) Android operating system, according to The NPD Group.
Android commanded 48 percent of the U.S. smartphone market through the fourth quarter, compared with 43 percent for Apple's iPhone 4S, iPhone 4 and iPhone 3GS.
However, 57 percent of first-time smartphone buyers acquired an Android handset in Q4, compared with 34 percent who picked up an iPhone. Samsung's Galaxy S II and Galaxy S 4G followed the iPhone models among most popular handsets in the U.S.
"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," NPD analyst Ross Rubin said in a statement Feb. 6.
Rubin added that the slew of smartphones that run on Verizon Wireless' 4G LTE (Long-Term Evolution) network also appealed to new handset owners.
4G LTE had no bearing on Apple's path to smartphone glory. Instead, the company's iPhone 4Sarmed with a speedier processor, 8 megapixel camera and Siri virtual assistantspurred sales of millions of units of that model.
"The iPhone 4S outsold the iPhone 4 by 75 percent, and outsold the iPhone 3GS, available for free on AT&T, five to one," Rubin said. Apple sold 37 million iPhones total in Q4, helped by the iPhone 4S, discounted iPhone 4 and 3GS and availability on Sprint for the first time.
Overall, NPD smartphones comprised 68 percent of the total mobile handset market in Q4, an 18 percent climb from Q4 2010.
comScore's monthly mobile data was somewhat different. The researcher counted about 98 million smartphone users in the U.S. through December, accounting for 40 percent of all U.S. mobile users. ComScore also counted Android at 47 percent share, with the iPhone grabbing under 30 percent through December.