NPD: First-Time Smartphone Buyers Skew Heavily To Android

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Port Washington, N.Y. - U.S. consumers purchased more Android-based smartphones than Apple smartphones in the fourth quarter, and among first-time smartphone buyers, the preference for Android was even stronger, an NPD Group survey of consumers found.

Nonetheless, Apple remained the best-selling handset brand (among smartphones and feature phones combined) for the fourth consecutive quarter in 2011's fourth quarter and sold the nation's three best-selling handsets during the period, NPD found.

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The survey tracks purchases by U.S. consumers who are ages 18 and older and does not capture purchases by corporations or enterprises.

In the smartphone segment, Apple's share of smartphones hit 43 percent among all smartphone purchasers in the quarter but hit only 34 percent among first-time smartphone purchasers, NPD found. (See chart.) Android's share among all smartphone purchasers was 48 percent, but among first-time smartphone purchasers, Android's share rose to 57 percent.

 The shares held by all other smartphone operating systems in the quarter came to 9 percent among all smartphone buyers and 9 percent among first-time smartphone buyers.

The top five best-selling handsets in the fourth quarter all happened to be smartphones, and they were, in order, the Apple iPhone 4S, iPhone 4, iPhone 3G S, Samsung Galaxy S II and Samsung Galaxy S 4G.

NPD also found that smartphones' overall share of handset sales continued to rise in the fourth quarter, hitting 68 percent, up 18 percentage points from 2010's fourth quarter. The selling prices for smartphones increased $8 from the third quarter to hit $143 in the fourth, but that average price was still below the year-ago $149, NPD found.

Apple's fourth-quarter sales took off because of the new iPhone 4S's faster processor, improved camera, Siri speech-driven agent, and expansion of distribution beyond AT&T, said Ross Rubin, NPD's, executive director of Connected Intelligence. Those attributes made the 4S the top-selling handset in Q4, he said. "The iPhone 4S outsold the iPhone 4 by 75 percent and outsold the iPhone 3GS, available for free on AT&T, five to one."

Android has been criticized for offering a more complex user experience than the iPhone, Rubin said, but Android's "wide carrier support and large app selection is appealing to new smartphone customers," Rubin said. "Android's support of LTE at Verizon has also made it the exclusive choice for customers who want to take advantage of that carrier's fastest network."

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