Apple's lead over Samsung in future-purchase plan survey cut in half

Gap between the two smartphone powers shrinks to 13 percentage points

From December to March, Apple's iPhone lost ground to smartphones from rival Samsung in a survey to assess consumers' future purchase plans, a market research firm said last week.

According to 451 Research's ChangeWave, of 4,000 consumers who, in a March survey, said they planned to buy a smartphone in the next 90 days, 40% said they would purchase an iPhone. That was a 10-percentage-point drop from ChangeWave's last such survey, conducted in December 2012.

Meanwhile, 27% of the people planning to buy a smartphone in the next three months picked Samsung as the maker of their likely purchase, a six-percentage-point increase from late last year.

Apple's lead over Samsung -- its biggest rival in most analysts' minds -- narrowed from 29 percentage points in December to 13 points in March 2013, when ChangeWave again conducted its purchase plan survey.

It's not unusual for projections of future iPhone buying plans to slump after the release of a new model, since many consumers know that Apple has historically launched one device annually. Apple, in fact, has cited such trends to explain fading sales in the months leading up to a launch as rumors circulate of an impending new iPhone.

Apple last refreshed the iPhone in September 2012, when it launched the iPhone 5. Most, although not all, analysts believe Apple will introduce a new flagship phone, dubbed the iPhone 5S, and a lower-cost iPhone, this summer.

Samsung's results may have been boosted by talk of the 5-in. Galaxy S4, which goes on sale in the U.S. this week through some carriers. ChangeWave conducted its survey March 4-19, the period during which Samsung revealed the Galaxy S4.

Or the results could have simply shown the continuation of an extended surge by Samsung, ChangeWave said.

"This is the fourth time in the past six surveys that we've seen a major leap for Samsung, and it's now at its highest level ever in a ChangeWave survey, double that of a year ago," said Andy Golub, a ChangeWave analyst, in an email. In March 2012, Samsung held a 13% share of intended purchases.

Other researchers have also tracked Samsung's climb in the U.S.

Earlier this month, comScore noted that Samsung's share of the U.S. subscriber market had increased by one percentage point to 21.3% between November 2012 and February 2013.

While Android-powered smartphones outnumber iPhones in the U.S., Apple continues to outsell every other manufacturer, comScore said.

ChangeWave also regularly asks consumers how satisfied they are with their current smartphone. And the iPhone continues to lead all comers on that metric, too: 70% of iPhone owners said that they are "very satisfied" with the device. Samsung placed second in that poll, with 54% of users of Samsung devices saying they are "very satisfied" with their smartphones.

ChangeWave chart
As a result of Apple's decline and Samsung's surge in ChangeWave's March survey to assess users' smartphone purchase plans, Apple's lead was cut in half from the previous poll. (Image: 451 Research's ChangeWave.)

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter, at @gkeizer, and on Google+, or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His email address is gkeizer@computerworld.com.

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