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Apple's iOS beats Android in fourth-quarter activations

Apple's operating system accounted for 50 percent of all US activations in the fourth quarter, inching out Android's 45 percent share.

The new iPhone 6 and 6 Plus helped propel Apple to the top of US activations in Q4. Josh Miller/CNET

Apple and Google's mobile operating systems captured 95 percent of all cell phone activations in the US in the fourth quarter, according to new data from research firm Consumer Intelligence Research Partners.

Apple's iOS took the top spot, accounting for 50 percent of all activations, thanks largely to the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, which launched at the end of September. Google's Android came in second place with 45 percent share. In a distant third was Windows Phone with 3 percent.

The research firm's data shows once again that Android and iOS are, by far, the dominant forces in the US mobile industry. The operating systems also dominate worldwide, though with a far different balance. Android is the leader worldwide, with 82 percent of the market in 2014, according to research firm IDC. Apple's iOS controls about 14 percent of the global market.

A key component in Android's success is the sheer number of products running the operating system. Nearly every major manufacturer, including Samsung and LG, have doubled down on Android over the last several years. Apple's mobile iOS success is due to the popularity of its iPhone. Apple's latest smartphones, the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, led to new sales records for the company, helping it boost market share both in the US and worldwide in the fourth quarter.

It's unlikely that any competitor to iOS or Android will secure a major spot in the smartphone market, IDC said last month. Windows Phone has 2.7 percent of the worldwide smartphone market, according to IDC, and newer competitors, including Samsung's Tizen and Mozilla's Firefox OS, have little chance of making a dent.

"With Android volumes so dominant, it is no longer a possibility for new operating systems like Tizen and Firefox to compete on price alone -- any underdog OS must bring a radically different appeal to gain any significant traction," IDC said.

CIRP echoed that sentiment on Wednesday, saying that in the US, "other operating systems don't really register." The company also suggested that Apple's leadership in the fourth quarter could be short-lived.

"In the past couple of years, Android's margin over iOS has been greatest in the third calendar quarter, as iOS buyers wait for the launch of a new iPhone," Mike Levin, a partner at Consumer Intelligence Research Partners, said in a statement. "Android market share peaked at 67% in the third quarter of 2014 compared to the iOS share of 28%. So, the reversal in the fourth quarter after the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus launch was significant. If annual patterns persist, we expect Android to have a greater share in the first quarter of 2015."

CIRP's data is based on a survey of 500 US residents who activated a mobile phone in the fourth quarter. The mobile phones can be new or used.

Neither Apple nor Google immediately responded to a request for comment.