Apple has been growing faster than its mobile industry rivals in Japan, but it still trails local handset makers and Google’s Android operating system in the country. That’s the conclusion of a new report from comScore, which analysed mobile usage in the country between November 2011 and February 2012.

Impressive growth by Apple trails

Sharp leads the pack, despite seeing a 1.1 percent drop in share of users, while Panasonic (13.8 percent), Fujitsu (11.8 percent), NEC (9.7 percent) and Sony (7.5 percent) complete the top list of OEMs. Apple comes in eighth, with 6.5 percent, however it grew by 1.5 percent, buoyed by the success of November’s iPhone 4S launch.

OEMs Comscore: Apples smartphone growth outstrips rivals in Japan but Android still dominates

Despite clocking impressive sales figures for the launch of the iPhone 4S in Japan, Apple is constricted by Japan’s emerging smartphone market, which it defines as devices running on Android, Apple, Microsoft, RIM and Symbian platforms.

Android dominates growing smartphone market

comScore says that one in five Japanese mobile users now use a smartphone, which represents impressive growth of 28 percent over the three month period.

“Smartphones surpassed feature phones as the most acquired device type in February 2012, signaling an important shift in Japan’s mobile market,” said Daizo Nishitani, vice president of comScore Japan KK. “Japanese mobile phone users were already highly engaged with their devices, but with the added functionality and higher levels of mobile media consumption we should expect to see significant changes in behavior among the Japanese mobile population in 2012.”

Devices based on Google’s Android are leading the charge, with the operating system accounting for 61.4 percent of active smartphones, compared to Apple (33 percent), Microsoft, (5.7 percent). Usage of RIM and Symbian is tiny, and both are grouped under ‘Others’, which accounts for just 0.5 percent.

Android’s share of usage remains steady, growing 0.3 percent, while Apple surged 1.3 percent and Microsoft declined 1.8 percent.

OS Comscore: Apples smartphone growth outstrips rivals in Japan but Android still dominates

Mobile email most popular

Finally, for those who have not been in Japan and experienced its unique mobile culture, the fact that mobile email tops the list for most popular activity may come as a surprise.

Use of email (56.7 percent) is narrowly ahead of mobile apps (55.4 percent), while social networking (19.5 percent) is below a number of activities, including SMS (45.4 percent) and mobile search (30 percent).

As smartphone devices become more popular it is likely that apps will rise to the top as the most used features, however Japanese mobile users’ love of email is likely to see it remain, if not the most popular, for some time.

activity Comscore: Apples smartphone growth outstrips rivals in Japan but Android still dominates