In what is perhaps surprising to some, Apple’s iPhone 4S is turning the tables in the heated smartphone competition between Apple and Google, latest data from NPD reveals. Focusing on U.S. smartphone data for October and November, the research firm found out that iOS increased its operating system share of U.S. smartphone sales substantially while the Android platform lost significant ground to Apple (via Fortune). Yes, data only includes sales of smartphones, not tablets.

The Cupertino, California-headquartered iPhone maker is now within spitting distance of Google with only four percentage points of difference. iOS was close to doubling its share of the U.S. smartphone market, climbing from 26 percent in the third quarter of 2011 all the way up to 43 percent in October and November. During the same timeframe, Android fell from 60 percent to 47 percent.

Collectively, the two rival platforms grabbed an astounding 90 percent of U.S. smartphone sales. Moreover, the top three best-selling smartphones on NPD’s holiday list belonged to Apple, the iPhone 4S, iPhone 4 and iPhone 3GS. What a difference a few weeks of sales make. Another interesting chart and more findings can be found right after the break.

Apple’s rise is even more impressive considering that iPhone 4S went on sale mid-October so it had only two weeks of sales during that month. Sure enough, there was a lot of pent up demand for the new iPhone, Apple added new price points, the lineup now includes the iPhone 4S, 4 and 3GS and new carriers landed the device. And with such a strong showing, it’s quite possible that iOS could overtake Android when December 2011 data becomes available (after all, iOS out-activated Android during the Christmas day by 1.6 million devices). Samsung’s Galaxy S 4G and Galaxy S II – backed with a strong anti-Apple ad blitz – took the #4 and #5 slots. NPD’s data reflects a similar notion shared yesterday by ChangeWave Research, suggesting more than half of planned smartphone purchases in the next 90 days could belong to Apple. ChangeWave also said both Apple and Samsung are enjoying “explosive momentum” whilst other handset makers are struggling to follow suit. NPD’s findings prompted the firm to dub the smartphone market “a two horse race” between Apple and Google (we called for it, remember?).

Competition between Apple and Google is having adverse effects for other incumbents which are realizing that keeping pace with the two Silicon Valley giants is becoming increasingly difficult. This is especially the case with BlackBerry maker Research In Motion, based on Canada, which continues surrendering market share to Apple and Google. According to NPD data, Research in Motion fell from eight percent U.S. smartphone share in the third quarter of 2011 to just six percent in the October-November period.

Windows Phone is but a blip on NPD’s radar with just four percentage points of sales shared between Windows Phone, Windows Mobile and Others. As for device mix, smartphones comprised more than two-thirds, or 67 percent, of all handset sales during the two-month holiday period. Dumb phones accounted for 15 percent of sales, or less than one in seven handsets, while messaging devices comprised 18 percent of U.S. handset sales.

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