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PHOTOGUIDE: The top-selling phones in the U.S. in the third quarter: iPhone displaced Razr as top U.S. handset

Apple Inc.’s 3G iPhone was the top-selling handset in the United States in the third quarter, according to new data from NPD Group.

The long reign of Motorola Inc.’s Razr handset – three straight years, or 12 consecutive quarters – is over. The Razr, in all its myriad models, slipped to the No. 2 position.

Research In Motion Ltd.’s BlackBerry Curve garnered the No. 3 spot, followed by LG Electronic Co. Ltd.’s Rumor and Env2.

Last week, Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. took a narrow lead in U.S. market share over Motorola, which has commanded the top spot for several years, according to data from Strategy Analytics.

NPD analyst Ross Rubin called the ascension of the iPhone over the Razr “a watershed shift.”

“Four of the five best-selling handsets in the third quarter were optimized for messaging and other advanced Internet features,” Rubin said.

The analyst said he discerned a growing divide in the handset market between voice-centric phones and those optimized for data and Internet usage. Fully 30% sought a device with a QWERTY keypad, up from 11% in the prior year.

NPD found, to varying degrees, that Bluetooth connectivity and digital music are rapidly becoming expected features on a phone. Bluetooth-enable handsets were 83% of those sold in the third quarter, up from 72% in the year-ago quarter. Music-enabled phones represented nearly 70% of units sold, up from about 50% in the year-ago quarter. Forty-three percent of consumers seek a phone with a camera.

In the smartphone category, however, RIM continued to be the top U.S. market share holder – with 40% – in October, according to analyst Ittai Kidron at Oppenheimer. Carrier subsidies appeared to be helping: the analyst found that more than half of the BlackBerrys on the market were subsidized to $100 or less.

“While carrier support remains solid, we are cutting our smartphone forecast once again to reflect the poor economy,” Kidron wrote.

Nokia Corp. continued to dominate the smartphone market in Europe, with RIM and HTC Corp. battling for the No. 2 position, according to Kidron.

U.S. carriers combined now offer 50 models of smartphones, while in Europe that number is nearly 250 models.

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