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Apple's iOS tops in the US for first time since 2012

Smartphones running Apple's iOS just barely inch out Android handsets to take the top spot for adoption across the US in the fourth quarter.

Apple's iPhone 6 (center), flanked by the Moto X and Nexus 5. Sarah Tew/CNET

Apple's iPhone 6 helped propel the company's mobile operating system to the top spot in the US in the fourth quarter, new data from research firm Kantar Worldpanel shows.

For the first time since the fourth quarter of 2012, Apple's iOS was No. 1, topping Google's Android by 0.1 percentage point, Kantar Worldpanel reported Wednesday. Apple's mobile operating system was found on 47.7 percent of all smartphones sold during the fourth quarter, just beating Android's 47.6 percent share of the market. Microsoft's Windows Phone was the only other mobile OS to muster at least one percentage point -- with 3.8 percent.

Apple also scored more share in other key markets, including Europe and China, according to the research firm.

Apple's success during the fourth quarter was built on the record-breaking popularity of the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, which launched in late September. Apple announced in an earnings report last week that its iPhone sales hit a record high of 74.5 million units worldwide in the last three months of 2014. That number included the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, as well as the company's legacy devices such as the iPhone 5S.

Kantar's findings represent an important milestone for Apple's iOS. The operating system's victory in the fourth quarter might be short-lived, but given the sheer number of devices running Android, it was an important one. The few versions of Apple's smartphones available in the fourth quarter were able to top every Android device on store shelves -- dozens in the US alone.

Kantar chief of research Carolina Milanesi pointed to Apple's strong hardware and its weak competition as key.

"While the success of the iPhone 6 and 6Plus is unprecedented, this quarter's performance also points to Apple having its strongest portfolio ever," Milanesi said. "With a range of devices available at different price points in both contract and pre-pay Apple was able to take advantage of a weaker Android offering at the premium end of the market."

The Kantar study comes just days after research firm Consumer Intelligence Research Partners reported that Android and iOS combined to capture 95 percent of all cell phone activations in the US in the fourth quarter. That company reported that iOS accounted for 50 percent of all activations in the country, while Android nabbed 45 percent share.

Still, it's a big world out there, and on that front, Apple has a long way to go. While in individual markets Kantar found that iOS market share was up, research firm IDC reported that at the end of 2014, Android controlled 82 percent of the global market while iOS controlled 14 percent.

Kantar Worldpanel's data is based on analyzing a range of metrics, including assessing mobile phone behavior, purchasing data, and the source of phone usage.

Neither Apple nor Google immediately responded to a request for comment on the Kantar findings.