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NPD: Apple Takes Top Three Slots For Smartphone Best-Sellers In U.S.

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Android held on to its title as the most-popular smartphone platform in the U.S. in the last quarter, but when it comes to sales of specific devices, Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) is running away from the competition, with Samsung swiftly behind, according to research out from the NPD Group.

Apple took 43 percent of all smartphone sales in the U.S. in Q4, according to the analysts, with its newest model, the iPhone 4S, ranking first — but with equally impressive showings from devices that are now over a year old, the iPhone 4 and the iPhone 3GS. Together, the three accounted for 43 percent of all sales in the U.S.

Tellingly, the two devices rounding out the top-five are Android handsets from Samsung, underscoring the close competition between the two companies and platforms at the moment.

While NPD does not give out total unit figures, it does offer some pretty stark sales proportions to spell out just how well the devices sold comparatively. Ross Rubin, executive director at NPD, noted in a statement that the iPhone 4S outsold the iPhone 4 by 75 percent, and it also outsold the iPhone 3GS by five to one.

Together, Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android platforms accounted for 90 percent of all smartphone sales in the U.S., pointing to the immense and continuing challenge for companies like RIM (NSDQ: RIMM) and Nokia (NYSE: NOK) to find a look in to what is currently the world’s largest smartphone market.

How does this compare to sales worldwide? We have contacted NPD to get an idea of that as a point of comparison and will update this post as we learn more.

In terms of what it is that is driving users to the iPhone 4S above all others, NPD says that one feature appears to be the dulcet tones of Siri, the voice-controlled “personal assistant” as well as the fact that, with the addition of Sprint (NYSE: S) as a carrier, the iPhone 4S became the most widely-available of Apple’s phones.

Android, despite Apple’s huge gains over the quarter, is still the most-common smartphone platform, however, accounting for 48 percent of all devices. Given that those devices cover a huge range of price points they will continue to give Apple a run for its money. Indeed, when looking only at sales patterns with first-time smartphone buyers, 57 percent of them opted for Android handsets, versus 34 percent picking up iPhones. That may have also had somewhat of an impact on the average sale price for smartphones, which now stands at $143, compared to $148 a year ago.

Together, smartphones accounted for 68 percent of all sales in Q4, a huge rise on Q4 2010, when they covered 50 percent of all sales.