Soaring iPhone 5 sales in the U.S. have helped make iOS the top smartphone operating system in the country, edging out Android, according to market research firm Kantar Worldpanel ComTech.

Kantar Tuesday said its research found that iPhones now hold a 48.1% share of the U.S. smartphone market, compared to 46.7% for Android.

The iPhone 4S previously overtook Android sales for three consecutive quarters, ultimately achieving a market share high of 49.3%, according to Kantar analyst Dominic Sunnebo. He predicted that Apple will beat that share within the next two quarters thanks to the iPhone 5.

Kantar uses a combination of consumer surveys and third party reports to derive its market share numbers. The researcher regularly relies on responses from up to 1.3 million worldwide consumers, according to the Kantar Web site.

Sunnebo said in an email that Kantar interviews the same consumers every four weeks to find if they've changed phones. If a consumer gets a new phone, the researcher finds out the brands and models involved and the reasons for making the change.

Kantar regularly interviews some 20,000 consumers, Sunnebo said.

The legendary loyalty of Apple customers explains part of iPhone's ascendancy.

Kantar said that 62% of U.S. iPhone 5 sales have come from existing Apple iPhone owners who are upgrading to the new device. Those switching from Android to iPhone 5 total 13% of the total and people switching from BlackBerry devices total 6%.

"An impressive 92% of existing Apple owners in the U.S. said they will choose an iPhone the next time they upgrade," Sunnebo said.

He also heralded Apple's decision to include a larger 4-in. screen and 4G LTE capability in the iPhone 5. The Apple smartphone went on sale Sept. 21 in the U.S. and eight other countries, and sold 5 million units in its first three days, according to Apple.

Bigger smartphone screens are important to consumers, according to Kantar research.

Sunnebo's report is based on sales for the 12 weeks ending Oct. 28, which takes into account about five weeks of iPhone 5 sales.

While the iPhone platform maintains a lead in the U.S., Android still dominates worldwide.

IDC said recently that 243 million Android smartphones of all brands shipped globally to retailers in 2011, compared to 93 million Apple smartphones. For all of 2012, IDC predicted 455 million Android smartphones will ship to retailers versus 147 million iPhones.

Taken as a single model, the iPhone is still the biggest seller globally, stronger than popular Android phones like the Samsung Galaxy S 3.

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Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen, or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed . His e-mail address is [email protected].

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