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Another Reason for Steve Jobs to Hate Google


From the counter-intuitive files: Google's Android is outselling Apple's iPhone in the United States.

You have to wonder how many people saw this one coming, but NPD Group, which tracks gadget sales, reports today that smartphones using Google's mobile operating system climbed past Apple in the first quarter. The breakdown: Google had 28 percent of the market, compared with Apple's 21 percent. Both companies still trail Research in Motion, which remains No. 1 with 36 percent of the domestic market. NPD's methodology estimates the number of devices sold to consumers based on self-reported consumer surveys.

Reading the report, one wonders whether Steve Jobs might be even more tempted to revisit Apple's decision to grant AT&T exclusivity for the iPhone. (That rumor's been in the air for a while.) Google sells Android devices through Verizon, T-Mobile USA and AT&T. Although the iPhone has done exceptionally well, Apple's arrangement not to expand distribution beyond AT&T also has effectively limited potential sales of the device. Despite promises of improved service, AT&T has had to battle lingering problems with wireless service for the iPhone (especially in New York and San Francisco.) As GigaOm's Kevin Tofel notes, Apple has a lot to gain and little to lose by opening up distribution.

As Verizon announced on its most recent quarterly earnings call, it has more than 92.8 million subscribers, none of which can buy an iPhone for use on the network -- although a recent poll found that a majority of them want one. Enter Google Android phones, whose user interfaces are similar to the iPhone and have access to a growing software store, now estimated at 50,000 applications. Verizon is helping the Android cause, too -- it devoted $100 million in advertising muscle to back the Android-powered Motorola Droid.

But it's not all bad news for Jobs. After its recent dust-up with Adobe, the NPD report could be that proverbial blessing in disguise. How so? Apple is looking at a possible federal antitrust inquiry and now can use the numbers to fend off charges that it violated antitrust regulations as a predatory monopolist.

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