According to the research firm's survey of US retailers, Android phones accounted for 44 percent of all consumer smartphone sales in the third quarter, an increase of 11 percentage points over 2010's second quarter. Meanwhile, Apple's iOS, which powers the iPhone, was up one point to 23 percent. The NPD Group explained the Android boom by pointing out the plethora of manufacturers that equip their smartphones with Google's mobile operating system, and highlighting their availability on all the major carriers.
Research in Motion's (RIM) portion of the smartphone pie was 22 percent for the third quarter, down six percentage points from 2010's second quarter.
RIM's decline is easy to explain, said Ross Rubin, the executive director of industry analysis for the NPD Group. "That's also related to the carrier distribution, which is difficult to underestimate," he said, noting that the carriers that now sell loads of Android phones are the same ones that have traditionally been major suppliers of RIM's BlackBerry.
RIM introduced its newest smartphone, the BlackBerry Torch 9800, in August.
The trend has been building throughout the first half of the year, both Restivo and Rubin said.
In the first six months of 2010, Android accounted for 30.8 percent of all smartphone sales in the US, up from just 4.6 percent in the first half of the year before, said Restivo, citing IDC data. Apple's iOS, on the other hand, slipped from 21.1 percent in the first half of 2009 to 19.8 percent in the first six months of 2010.
RIM's sales share plummeted during the same period, falling from 51.4 percent in 2009 to 35.5 percent this year.
"Android has made its mark on the smartphone market, irrespective of what quarter we're talking about in 2010," said Restivo. IDC has not yet compiled its third-quarter sales estimates by operating system.
Apple will have a tough time matching Android smartphone sales until it breaks free of the exclusive partnership [in the US] with AT&T, Rubin argued. "It's difficult for them to compete in market share leadership with just one carrier," he said.
Rubin offered another reason for Android's strong sales.
"The story for Android in 2010 is that, for most manufacturers and carriers, there really hasn't been any alternative," Rubin said. Microsoft 's Windows Mobile faded badly this year, and its Windows Phone 7 has only just appeared. That's left Android as the default OS for what Rubin called "modern" smartphones.
"Multiple manufacturers [with Android phones] provide more consumer choice in the marketplace," said Rubin.