Apple's Widely Missed, Record-Breaking Number

Lost in the understandable excitement of Apple's (NAS: AAPL) astonishing quarterly performance is yet another important company milestone -- the iPhone is now the top smartphone OS in the U.S. Here are full details, and what it all means for investors.

And it's Apple by a nose
Figures released on Wednesday by market-researcher Kantar Worldpanel show that the Apple iPhone has overtaken Google's (NAS: GOOG) Android, making the iPhone the most popular smartphone platform in the U.S.

Apple's 44.9% market share just nipped Android's 44.8% in the 12 weeks leading up to Christmas. Market share for the iPhone in the U.K. also rose from a year ago, from 22% to 34%. Apple has now sold 315 million iPhones to date, Apple reported on Tuesday.

"Overall," Kantar's consumer-insight director Dominic Sunnebo told Financial Times, "Apple [iPhone] sales are now growing at a faster rate than Android across the nine countries we cover."

Not even out of the gate
With iOS and Android taking up 89.7% of the U.S. market, who's sopping up the remaining 10.3%? That would partially be Research in Motion (NAS: RIMM) and its once-dominant Blackberry, down from 11.9% to 6.1% market share. One small bright spot for RIM is in the U.K., with Financial Times reporting that the struggling company "still has the U.K. youth market locked down, with many [Blackberries] purchased as gifts for under-16s."

That still leaves 4.2% of market share left to be explained, and if any of it went to Nokia's (NYS: NOK) new line of smartphones, it wasn't reported, Nokia having recently launched its best attempt at a legitimate smartphone. What was reported, however, was that the Nokia 800, the company's flagship handset in Europe, didn't even crack the list of top 10 smartphones sold in the U.K. The new Nokia phones are running Microsoft's (NAS: MSFT) Windows Phone operating system. Both companies are counting on the Lumia line to revive their flagging fortunes in the smartphone market.

The little company from Cupertino that could
While it is just by a hair, beating Android for the top spot in the U.S. smartphone market share is still astounding. Android is the Microsoft Windows of smartphone operating software, i.e., anyone and their CEO's mother can pick it up and adapt it to their handsets without too much fuss, which can make the end cost to the consumer much more attractive than that of the iPhone.

Apple's displacing Android here says a lot for the power of the brand. Yet with the phenomenal earnings report and this important milestone reached, the stock is still trading for the very average P/E of just 16. Maybe investors feel the company has been on too strong of a run for too long, and that it's sure to stumble any minute. Alternatively, maybe now is the perfect time to buy. But if you're going to you'd better hurry -- the share price is already on the way up.

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At the time thisarticle was published Fool contributorJohn Grgurichthinks Apple should break out the Superman cape after this performance, but he owns no shares of any of the companies mentioned in this column. The Motley Fool, however, owns shares of Apple, Google, and Microsoft. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Microsoft, Apple, and Google; creating a bull call spread position in Apple; and creating a bull call spread position in Microsoft. Try any of our Foolish newsletter servicesfree for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe thatconsidering a diverse range of insightsmakes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a scintillatingdisclosure policy.

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