Samsung strikes back: Galaxy S III outsells iPhone in U.S.

The battle between Samsung and Apple(s aapl) rages on, but this time, it’s Samsung coming out on top. For the month of August, the top-selling phone at three of the four big U.S. carriers was Samsung’s new Galaxy S III smartphone, according to Apple Insider. The data came from carrier store checks by analyst Michael Walkley with Canaccord Genuity and mark the first time since launch that the iPhone 4S wasn’t the top handset.

Galaxy S III handsetThis news follows the more than 1 billion in damages that Samsung may have to pay Apple due to various patent infringements from prior Samsung smartphones. It’s not likely to offset that much of any such damages, and it’s even less likely that this trend will continue for Samsung: Apple today announced a press event on Sept. 12 where it is expected to launch the iPhone 5.

Indeed part of Samsung’s success with the Galaxy S III is due to consumers waiting for the next iPhone; those that already know that an Apple smartphone is their preference could be holding off on a phone purchase. But Samsung should still be happy with the sales “win” for August as it shows that new and upgrading customers are interested in the Galaxy S III. And why not? In my June review, I considered it “the defining Android phone.”

This situation could also help explain why Samsung didn’t follow the same launch strategy from the Galaxy S II last year. That handset was announced in May, but took until November to finally appear on all four major U.S. carriers. With the Galaxy S III debuting across the U.S. in June — just one month after the phone’s introduction — Samsung got a jump on sales prior to any new Apple hardware, with 10 million sales in the first month.

Google Now personal assistant on Nexus 7Again, Samsung is unlikely to hold its sales lead against Apple when the new iPhone arrives, but it will be interesting to see what happens a few months later. Could the Galaxy S III again take the top spot away from the next iPhone at Verizon(s vz)(s vod), AT&T(s t) or Sprint(s s)? I think it’s possible, especially once Samsung releases the Android 4.1 update for the Galaxy S III, which adds the proactive Google Now personal assistant and performance boost in the latest version of Android.

Regardless of how the next few months play out between these two phones, the situation is a good reminder of how few others are competing against Apple in the smartphone market. Motorola, HTC, LG and others are simply hanging on at this point while Samsung is taking the Android charge against iOS.