iPhone 5 in Apple Store

Evidence supporting a call for Apple to produce a budget-minded smartphone keeps mounting. The latest evidence: Android’s market share lead over iOS in the US is widening, according to research concluded in February. What once was a 2-point domestic lead for Google’s mobile software in 2012 has stretched to 8 points.

Android now has just over half of the US smartphone market with 51.2 percent of sales, according to a survey by Kantar Worldpanel. That is a gain from 47 percent during the same period a year ago. Apple’s iOS is in second place in the U.S. with 43.5 percent of smartphone sales, a 3.5 percent slip from 2012, according to Kantar…

Although proponents of a resurgent Apple note that the company remains the most profitable smartphone maker, others question whether the firm can delay much longer offering a cheaper alternative.

“This is a fairly strong argument for why Apple must get a smartphone out as soon as it can,” BGR.com writes, commenting on the Kantar numbers.

Whether Apple is in a revenue trough for the next six months or can hurry its exit via a cheap handset for India, the research firm gives Samsung much of the credit for Android’s gains.

Android’s increases were thanks to a large increase in Samsung sales within Sprint,” said Kantar analyst Mary-Ann Parlato. Earlier this year, Sprint discounted Samsung phones, spurring demand for both the handset and the carrier. Others also credited Samsung’s gains for Apple’s slipping market share at home.

The tech blog claims Apple’s US market share “is now slipping fast” as new smartphone buyers opt for cheaper alternatives or are “captured by Samsung’s Galaxy glamor.”

According to Kantar, handset cost was a common reason US consumers gave for purchasing the Android device. The question for Apple is whether it values profit margins over handset sales. Offering a low-cost phone and focusing more on emerging markets (like India) means Apple’s profits will be lower, due to the inexpensive handset and less reliance on subsidized carrier relations. However, increasing volume could also do much to dispel fears of Apple being overrun by Android.