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For the first time since the end of 2007, BlackBerry maker Research in Motion has lost its lead in U.S. smartphone sales. The culprit? Google’s Android mobile operating system, according to the latest report by the NPD Group research firm.

NPD’s data reveals that Android accounted for 33 percent of smartphone sales in the second quarter of 2010. RIM dropped to second place with 28 percent. Apple remained in third place with 22 percent.

We recently reported on data from the Nielsen Company which put Android in second place for the second quarter — but even there, Google’s platform was mere 5 percentage points behind RIM. The next Nielsen report will likely show Android overtaking Google in the third quarter. Also worth noting: The Canalys data from that previous report — which revealed that Android sales were up 886 percent worldwide — also showed Android overtaking RIM in the U.S. for the last quarter.

According to NPD, the most popular Android phones this quarter were the Motorola Droid, HTC Droid Incredible, and the HTC Evo 4G. That the Droid still maintains its lead despite being outmatched technically by newer devices shows the impact of Verizon’s $100 million marketing campaign. And of course, the fact that it can be had for much less than newer Android devices certainly helps.

And then there’s the name: Many ordinary consumers refer generically to Android smartphones as “Droids,” not making a distinction between the hardware maker and the software platform.

RIM’s loss was inevitable. It was originally king of the smartphones when they were favored by business users, but as smartphones approached mainstream popularity — first with the iPhone, and then with Android — RIM found itself unable to innovate.

Yesterday, the company announced its latest flagship device and software — the BlackBerry Torch with OS 6 — but even that was deemed too little, too late.

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