Samsung May Have Passed Apple in U.S. — for Now

“Holy Red Delicious Apples”, Batman.

Can it be true? Apple in Second Place?…

The Galaxy S4 was the top-selling phone for Verizon, T-Mobile and Sprint last month

Samsung Electronics may have surpassed Apple to become the top smartphone maker in the United States in May, according to an analyst’s report.

Sales of Samsung’s new flagship phone, the Galaxy S4, combined with its bigger-screen Galaxy Note II and the older Galaxy S III, lifted Samsung’s sales above Apple’s last month, the report said.

“We believe Samsung on the strength of strong Galaxy S4, S III, and Note II sales surpassed Apple to gain top share of the U.S. smartphone market for the first time since the iPhone 5 launch,” said Michael Walkley, the Canaccord Genuity analyst who conducted the survey.

That may look like a milestone, but the report should be taken with a grain of salt. The survey doesn’t include Apple’s retail stores, where many iPhones are sold. And it remains to be seen whether Samsung can beat Apple in sales after Apple releases a new iPhone (or even a cheaper iPhone, as rumors suggest). At one point, Samsung’s Galaxy S III surpassed the iPhone 4S to become the best-selling phone in the world, but when sales numbers for the new iPhone 5 came in later, the iPhone was No. 1 again.

Also, strong performance in May alone doesn’t mean Samsung has crushed Apple in the United States over all. ComScore, the Internet analytics company, issued a report on Tuesday that estimated that Apple had 39.2 percent of smartphone subscribers in the first three months of 2013 and Samsung, in second place, had 22 percent. That includes all models of iPhones and Samsung phones in the United States.

What Samsung’s strong performance in May reveals is that the South Korean manufacturer has figured out how to make good use of the months between iPhone upgrades, when the current iPhone is getting old and its sales are slowing. Samsung is releasing its new phones during these months. And some Apple customers who are waiting for the next iPhone may be caving in and buying Samsung phones instead.

In other words, Samsung has taken advantage of the predictability of the iPhone release cycle — Apple’s pattern has been to upgrade the iPhone once a year in the fall to target the holiday season. Will Apple switch up its next move?

Tensions between Apple and Samsung, meanwhile, are heating up as their patent battle continues. On Tuesday, the United States International Trade Commission issued a ban on a handful of older Apple devices, including the iPhone 4 for AT&T’s network. Apple intends to appeal the decision.

by Brian X. Chen, NYT Bits