According to The NPD Group, in the first quarter of this year Apple’s mobile phone sales reached 14 percent of the U.S. market.

Apple outranked HTC, Motorola and RIM as the third-largest handset brand in the U.S., behind Samsung at 23 percent and LG at 18 percent.

After launching on Verizon’s network in February, Apple’s iPhone 4 further solidified its position as the top-selling mobile phone in the U.S., while iPhone 3GS, Motorola Droid X, HTC EVO 4G, and HTC Droid Incredible rounded out NPD’s top-five mobile phone handset ranking. Unit sales of smartphones increased 8 percent in Q1 compared to the previous quarter; however, total handset unit sales fell 1 percent.

“Apple and Verizon had a very successful launch of the iPhone 4, which allowed the iPhone to expand its market share that was previously held back by its prolonged carrier exclusivity with AT&T,” said Ross Rubin, executive director of industry analysis at NPD.

Smartphones Take the Lead in Overall Handset Sales

According to NPD’s “Mobile Phone Track” consumer tracking service, for the first time a majority (54 percent) of all new mobile-phone handsets purchased by U.S. consumers were smartphones. Driven by increases in smartphone sales in Q1 2011, average selling prices for all mobile phones rose 2 percent over the previous quarter to reach $102; however, average prices for smartphones actually declined by 3 percent (falling to $145).

The Android OS lost ground for the first time since Q2 2009, falling to 50 percent of smartphone unit sales in Q1 2011 compared to 53 percent in the prior quarter. Apple iOS share rose 9 percentage points to comprise 28 percent of smartphone unit sales. Research In Motion’s BlackBerry OS also lost ground, falling 5 points, to 14 percent.

Data Note: The information in this press release is from Mobile Phone Track – NPD’s consumer tracking of U.S. consumers, aged 18 and older, who reported purchasing a mobile phone. NPD does not track corporate/enterprise mobile phone purchases.

Source: The NPD Group, Inc.

MacDailyNews Take: Apple’s iPhone 4 for Verizon, launched in the U.S. on February 10, or in the middle of the quarter that has been measured in the report by NPD. We have not yet seen the full impact of iPhone 4 on Verizon in the U.S.; this is only the first fleeting glimpse — and just wait until iPhone 5 debuts since, after all, iPhone 4 was basically 7-month-old device when it hit Verizon. In addition, the normal lapsing of Verizon’s two-year contracts will further alter the U.S. smartphone market in Apple’s favor as those who settled for pretend iPhones get real iPhones as their contracts end.

As our own SteveJack explained back on December 23, 2009:

iPhone isn’t the Mac, so stop comparing them. To draw an analogy between the Mac and iPhone platforms simply highlights… ignorance of the vast differences between the two business situations. Look at the iPod, not the Mac, to see how this will play out.

Google Android offers the same messy, inconsistent Windows PC “experience,” but without any cost savings, real or perceived. Windows only thrived back in the mid-90s because PCs (and Macs) were so expensive; the upfront cost advantage roped in a lot of people, who were, frankly, ignorant followers who did what their similarly-ignorant co-workers and friends told them to do. Microsoft still coasts along on that momentum today.

I’d call any Android device the “Poor Man’s iPhone,” but you have to spend just as much, if not more, to partake in an increasingly fragmented and inferior platform. There’s no real reason to choose Android, people settle for Android. “I’d have bought an iPhone if Verizon offered them.” Just look what’s happening in any country where iPhone is offered on multiple carriers. It’s a bloodbath.

Apple offers consistency to developers of both software and hardware. Just look at the vibrant third-party accessories market for iPhone vs. the Zune-like handful of oddball items for Android. If you make a case or a vehicle mount, does it pay to make 44 different Android accessories whose total addressable audience numbers under 1 million each, or to make one or two for what’s [well over] 100 million iPhone/iPod touch devices? As Apple’s iPhone expands onto more and more carriers, Android’s only real selling point (“I’m stuck on Verizon or some other carrier that doesn’t offer the iPhone”) evaporates.