NPD: Apple now third-largest U.S. mobile phone brand

Research firm The NPD Group says that, thanks in part to Verizon iPhone sales, Apple is now the third-largest mobile phone brand in the U.S, ahead of HTC, Motorola, and RIM. NPD claims that the iPhone accounted for 14 percent of the mobile phone sales market in the first quarter of 2011, behind Samsung (23 percent) and LG (18 percent).

Those numbers seem pretty reasonable. Apple reported record iPhone sales during its most recent earnings call, saying it had sold 18.65 million iPhones in the quarter, which ended March 26. That marked an increase of 113 percent from the 8.75 million phones Apple sold during the same period last year. Verizon accounted for 2.2 million of those iPhones, according to that company's most recent earnings call (which was probably made from a landline), but even with Verizon in the picture, AT&T did a healthy business. The GSM-based carrier activated 3.6 million iPhones in the first quarter of 2011—33 percent more than it had in the previous quarter. (The remaining 12.85 million iPhones Apple sold were from international markets.)

NPD also reports that, for the first time, more than half of all new mobile phones purchased by U.S. consumers were smartphones. That was good news for Apple: The iPhone saw a 9 percent increase, up to 28 percent of smartphone unit sales, according to NPD's numbers. While you might think that a rising tide lifts all boats, the firm also said that Android sales dipped slightly for the first time since the second quarter of 2009—from 53 percent in the previous quarter to 50 percent in the first quarter of 2011.

However, it’s worth noting NPD gathers its numbers via the Mobile Phone Track consumer tracking service, its own approach for researching such data through “proven research methodologies and a world-class market intelligence infrastructure, combined with strategic insights from our team of wireless experts.” Given that it gathers this data in a proprietary manner, it’s tough to say just how accurately it reflects the market. That said, it’s not hard to imagine that the addition of Verizon as an iPhone carrier, coupled with steady increases on AT&T’s side of the fence, would result in Apple selling more phones than ever before. And it seems as though that number is continuing to climb.

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