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Samsung has a moment, topping Apple in phone activations

The third quarter was dandy for Samsung in the US, but researcher CIRP says the iPhone 6 should propel Apple back into the lead in the final three months of 2014.

The Galaxy S5 helped Samsung with its third-quarter numbers. James Martin/CNET

Samsung easily topped Apple during the third quarter in the lull before the arrival of the latest iPhones.

During the quarter, Samsung accounted for 36 percent of all phone activations in the US, according to new data from Consumer Intelligence Research Partners. Apple came in second with 28 percent of activations. LG followed in third place, at 18 percent.

CIRP's data is based on a survey of 500 US-based subjects who activated new or used phones between July and September 2014.

The bragging rights for Samsung may not last long, given the pattern that CIRP has tracked over the last several years: Those who want to buy Android devices tend to go to brands like Samsung regardless of what Apple has planned, while Apple's customers and those who are looking to become iPhone owners wait for the arrival of new handsets from the Cupertino, Calif.-based company.

Apple launched its latest-generation smartphones, the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, at the end of the third quarter so their effect on activations for the period could only be modest. They'll make their presence felt more fully as the year comes to a close.

"We expect that Apple will regain its market share lead in the fourth quarter, based on the strength of the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus launch," CIRP co-founder and partner Josh Lowitz said in a statement Friday. "Apple's share jumped to 48% in the last quarter of 2014, the first full quarter of iPhone 5S and 5C sales."

Samsung has maintained consistency in the US. The company had 36 percent share of activations in the second quarter and kept that figure in the third quarter. During the second quarter, Apple beat out Samsung with 39 percent share of activations.

After the top three in the third quarter, other phone makers weren't much more than blips. Motorola and HTC were able to nab 5 percent of activations each, but all others were well behind. BlackBerry, Nokia, and Amazon all accounted for 1 percent of activations each.

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