HTC Thunderbolt overpowering iPhone in some Verizon stores

by Phil Hornshaw

Long anticipated and touted by many to be the second coming of the iPhone, free of the shackles of terrible customer service and the worst cellular network in America, it appears the Verizon (VZ) iPhone isn’t doing quite as well as many expected.

According to a report from Mashable, in some Verizon stores, the iPhone isn’t the best-selling smart phone in the stable. That award is going to HTC’s (2498.TW) brand-new Thunderbolt, a powerhouse device that runs Google’s (GOOG) Android operating system.

The Thunderbolt has a lot going for it. It’s among the first of Verizon’s new batch of 4G LTE devices, making its data speeds a whole lot faster than the 3G-only iPhone (provided you’re in a 4G area). It also has a larger screen -- 4.3 inches of touch display -- and an 8-megapixel camera on board.

A non-scientific poll by BTIG Research seems to bear out that the Thunderbolt is a hit and is taking sales right out of the hands of Apple (AAPL). BTIG talked with 150 Verizon stores about weekend sales last week (the Thunderbolt only hit Verizon stores on March 15; the iPhone only hit the network in the beginning of February). According to the poll, 61 percent of the stores polled had nearly identical sales between the Thunderbolt and the iPhone, and another 28 percent said HTC had beaten Apple that weekend. The final 11 percent said that the iPhone had been tops that weekend.

There are a few factors worth mentioning here that are likely affecting the way things are going with these sales, though. First, the Thunderbolt’s 4G LTE status makes it a hot commodity, period, and so it should be expected to sell well even when it retails at $50 more than the iPhone. It’s also brand-spanking-new, which means it’ll have high sales until the novelty cools off a bit. And the iPhone is also sold in a lot more locations than just Verizon stores, so this is more of a snapshot of a possible phenomenon rather than proof positive that the Thunderbolt is routing the iPhone.

The iPhone on Verizon is also kind of a bad deal right now: it came available in between hardware cycles and caused many AT&T (T) iPhone users to have to pay contract-killing fees in order to get one, so it may not have had the initial draw that it would have had it come out last summer with the iPhone 4 on AT&T. All these things add to sales for HTC while detracting from sales for Apple.

That said, we might not be seeing the next iteration of the iPhone until the fall, according to some rumors and reports, and that basically means the Thunderbolt has a lot of time to become firmly entrenched in the Verizon landscape, and continue to drive sales toward Android and away from iOS. The Thunderbolt’s 4G LTE capabilities are nothing to be scoffed at, and a shiny, fast phone with a big new screen could make a lot of possible iPhone customers into Android converts while they’re forced to wait for the iPhone 5.