iPhone 5 Sales Drive Apple to Smartphone Market Leader: ComScore

Sales of the iPhone 5 helped place the company at the top of the market-share pile, followed by arch-rival Samsung and recently re-branded BlackBerry.

Apple ranked as the top smartphone manufacturer with 36.3 percent share, while Google Android led as the top smartphone platform with 53.4 percent share, according to the latest report from IT research firm ComScore's MobiLens service, which tracked key trends in the U.S. smartphone industry during the three-month average period ending December 2012.

The number of Americans that own smartphones rose 5 percent since September to 125.9 million people—a 54 percent mobile market penetration, according to ComScore. Strong sales of Apple's latest handset, the highly anticipated iPhone 5, helped place the company as the top OEM, up 2 percentage points from September. Samsung ranked second with 21 percent market share (up 2.3 percentage points from September), followed by HTC with 10.2 percent share (down 1.8 percentage points), Motorola with 9.1 percent (down 0.7 percentage points) and LG with 7.1 percent (up 0.5 percentage points).

The wide variety of appealing smartphones running Google's Android operating system, many designed by second-place OEM Samsung, kept Android at the top of the platform market-share heap, while Apple's iOS market-share penetration increased 2 percentage points to 36.3 percent. Newly rebranded BlackBerry snagged third place with 6.4 percent market share, which may rise substantially if the company's new operating system and handsets prove popular with users. Microsoft (2.9 percent) and Symbian (0.6 percent) rounded out the top-five smartphone platforms.

According to a recent report from IT research firm Strategy Analytics, Apple has become the top mobile phone vendor by volume in the United States for the first time ever, with the company's success driven by its popular ecosystem of iPhones and the App Store, generous carrier subsidies and extensive marketing of the iPhone 5. Apple shipped 17.7 million mobile phones for a record 34 percent market share of the U.S. market in the fourth quarter of 2012, up sharply from 12.8 million units shipped and 25 percent share in the fourth quarter of 2011. The company's worldwide smartphone shipments in last year's fourth quarter reached 47.8 million units, up 29 percent from the same period in 2011.

Despite Apple's success, some analysts believe the company must shift gears to keep up with an increasingly competitive smartphone marketplace. Sterne Agee analyst Shaw Wu wrote in a research note that the company must reclaim high-end leadership, as iPhone 5 isn't viewed as high-end anymore, and get more aggressive in the midrange.

"What looked initially like a risky attempt by Android partners Samsung, HTC, Motorola and others to differentiate against iPhone, in building larger touch-screen smartphones that many ridiculed as too big, ended up being a much bigger success than most expected," Wu wrote. "In many markets, the 4.8-inch (Samsung Galaxy S III) to 5.55-inch (Galaxy Note II) form factors are the new high end of the market, where the iPhone 5 is viewed as midrange but with a high-end price. In addition, supply chain data points indicate the highly anticipated Galaxy S4 with 5-inch touch-screen will launch in April."

The note said Apple was leaving money on the table by not participating in larger touch-screen form factors and needs to think differently and not be afraid of taking risks—pointing to the iPad Mini as an example of recent success. Wu also wrote Apple needs to develop a better strategy of focusing on the midrange, noting interest in the iPhone 4 and 4S is still strong but manufacturing capacity had been scaled back in favor of iPhone 5.