Google's Android Beats Apple's iPhone Last Quarter

While the smartphone market for the mainstream customer in the U.S. still largely belongs the Apple and its iPhone, things could be changing quickly. According to research firm NPD's survey of 150,000 "nationally balanced and demographically-representative" respondents, smartphones running the Android operating system moved past Apple to take the number-two position among smartphone operating systems.

NPD's wireless market research reveals that based on unit sales to consumers last quarter the Android operating system moved into second position at 28 percent behind RIM's BlackBerry OS (36 percent) and ahead of Apple's OS (21 percent).

"As in the past, carrier distribution and promotion have played a crucial role in determining smartphone market share," said Ross Rubin, executive director of industry analysis for NPD. "In order to compete with the iPhone, Verizon Wireless has expanded its buy-one-get-one offer beyond RIM devices to now include all of their smartphones."

Strong sales of the Droid, Droid Eris, and Blackberry Curve via these promotions helped keep Verizon Wireless's smartphone sales on par with AT&T in Q1. According to NPD's Mobile Phone Track, smartphone sales at AT&T comprised nearly a third of the entire smartphone market (32 percent), followed by Verizon Wireless (30 percent), T-Mobile (17 percent) and Sprint (15 percent).

"Recent previews of BlackBerry 6, the recently announced acquisition of Palm by HP, and the pending release of Windows Phone 7 demonstrates the industry's willingness to make investments to address consumer demand for smartphones and other mobile devices," Rubin said. "Carriers continue to offer attractive pricing for devices, but will need to present other data-plan options to attract more customers in the future."

AllThingsD got Apple's take on this report and others like it, which predictably downplayed Android's success and growth.

"This is a very limited report on 150,000 US consumers responding to an online survey and does not account for the more than 85 million iPhone and iPod touch customers worldwide," said Apple spokeswoman Natalie Harrison.

iPhone OS-running devices such as the iPod touch and iPad do mean that Apple has a lead in that area, but NPD's numbers did not include the iPod touch or non-smartphone Android devices such as the Archos 5.