Apple Dominates Q3 U.S. Smartphone Sales Through Big Three Carriers

Android might be winning the global battle, but in the United States the top of the market belongs to Apple. The big three U.S. cellular carriers – Verizon, AT&T and Sprint – have all posted their most recent quarterly earnings and between them 58% of smartphones sold were iPhones. 

Sprint was the last of the big three to announce earnings. The nation’s third largest cellular carrier sold 1.5 million iPhones and another million “LTE” smartphones. Add that to Verizon’s 3.1 million iPhones (of 6.8 million smartphones in the quarter) and AT&T’s 4.7 million iPhones (out of 6.7 million) and all told, 9.3 million out of 16 million (58.1%) went to Apple’s flagship device. The numbers are similar to what we saw in Q2 this year, though the volume of smartphones sold was higher for AT&T and Verizon in Q3. 

Most of the iPhones sold in Q3 were not Apple’s latest iPhone 5. The newest flagship device was released about 10 days before the end of the quarter and accounted only for 21% of Verizon’s iPhone sales. Look for a mammoth fourth quarter for both the big three carriers and for Apple as the holiday sales season rolls along and the iPhone 5 picks up steam. 

An Android Drought

The third quarter did not see many new high-quality Android devices hit the market. The most prominent was likely the Samsung Galaxy S3, which hit shelves near end of June or middle of July (depending on the carrier). In September there were many device announcements, such as the new Windows Phone 8 Lumia devices from Nokia, Motorola Razr HD and Samsung Galaxy Note II (among others). Most of those devices have been slated for a Q4 release, such as the Note II, which goes on pre-order from the four major carriers (including T-Mobile) this week.

Analyst Ben Evans provides these charts to show the percentage of iPhone sales among the top three U.S. carriers over time. 

Each carrier has a different dynamic when it comes to smartphone sales. AT&T consistently shows the strongest iPhone sales while Verizon is more split down the middle and Sprint (which does not provide firm non-iPhone numbers) skews towards the iPhone but also does a considerable Android business as well.

The reason for AT&T’s strong iPhone sales is understandable. It was Apple’s exclusive partner for the iPhone from 2007 to 2011 before Verizon got the iPhone in March last year. People were introduced to the iPhone through AT&T and it is reasonable that they go back to the carrier when it is time to upgrade to the newest device.

Verizon has a strong brand partnership with Android manufacturers such as Samsung and Motorola, and much of its marketing spend it targeted at “Droid” devices. Sprint, which did not get the iPhone until the release of the iPhone 4S, has made a strong financial commitment to the iPhone and is using the device as a way to retain current customers while trying to poach users from AT&T and Verizon through its “unlimited” voice and data plans. 

Can Apple Continue To Dominate?

The fourth quarter is shaping up to be a fascinating time in the smartphone sales wars. All the flagship and big-name devices that consumers have been waiting for this year will finally be available, most likely by the middle of November (Nokia has not announced when its Windows Phone 8 Lumia devices will hit carriers). Motorola has its three primary players already out with the Droid Razr HD, Maxx HD and Razr M. Samsung will have the Galaxy S 3 and Note II and huge marketing campaigns behind them. HTC will release the One X+, the first quad-core LTE smartphone to land in the U.S. market and has the EVO LTE 4G on Sprint as well as its own Windows Phone 8 devices. 

Apple’s mid-year dominance is not guaranteed to continue heading into the end of the year. The iPhone will definitely sell extremely well in the holiday season, but there are more quality alternatives from respected competitors than ever before in the history of smartphones. The variety and choice spell out a big win for consumers. Whatever your preference, there is a smartphone that was built with you in mind. 

Are you planning on buying a smartphone for the holidays? What will your choice be? Let us know in the comments.