iPhone 4 trumps Android rivals in customer satisfaction

But Motorola and HTC models in hot pursuit, says ChangeWave consumer survey

Apple's iPhone continues to dominate rival smartphones in customer satisfaction, a research firm said today.

A survey completed in early November of more than 1,200 U.S. consumers who had purchased a smartphone in the past six months found that Apple led all competitors in customer satisfaction, with 77% of iPhone owners saying they were "very satisfied" with their decision and device.

But the surprise finding, said Paul Carton, vice president of research at ChangeWave Research, was the "exceptionally strong" showing of Motorola, which placed second, with 74% of owners giving their Android-powered devices high marks. Motorola sells the Droid 2 and Droid X.

In third place was HTC, which garnered a 63% vote for "very satisfied" on the back of its Android-based Evo 4G and Droid Incredible.

Other manufacturers lagged significantly behind Apple, Motorola and HTC, said Carton, including Samsung, with 45% of its smartphone owners very satisfied, and Research in Motion (RIM) at 44%.

Apple has consistently placed atop ChangeWave's customer satisfaction rankings since the iPhone debuted more than three years ago. A similar survey the firm did a year ago pegged the iPhone's very satisfied fraction at 74%, a number Carton called "on a different planet" compared to those of rivals such as RIM.

Since that 2009 survey, however, sales of Android smartphones, particularly those sold by Motorola and HTC, have exploded. According to IDC, 20 million Android smartphones were sold in the quarter ending Sept. 30, compared to the iPhone's 13.5 million.

Of the individual Android models, the most loved was HTC's Evo 4G, with a 76% very satisfied result, followed by Motorola's Droid 2 at 74%.

Neither could match the 32GB iPhone 4, which received an 84% very satisfied ranking, a record for Apple. Meanwhile, the lower-priced 16GB iPhone 4 polled 78%.

Both numbers for the iPhone 4 were slightly higher than those for the iPhone 3GS when ChangeWave surveyed owners in May 2010.

Carton pointed out that the results for the iPhone 4 put to rest the trouble Apple encountered last summer over the new phone's antenna, which customers said caused dropped calls and poor signal strength when they held the device in certain ways.

"[The numbers] confirm our earlier survey findings that despite the controversy surrounding its initial launch, the iPhone 4 has been extraordinarily well received by its owners," Carton wrote in a research note posted on the ChangeWave site.

Initially, that wasn't the case. When ChangeWave polled early buyers of the iPhone 4 in late July, just weeks after the phone's introduction, only 72% said they were very satisfied, a 10-point drop from the number received by the iPhone 3GS at the same interval after its 2009 debut.

ChangeWave's newest survey also found continued interest in the iPhone on the part of consumers locked into U.S. carriers such as Verizon and T-Mobile, which currently do not support Apple's smartphone.

About one-in-three of those who purchased a smartphone from a non-AT&T carrier said that they would have bought an iPhone if their carrier sold it, said Carton. Motorola smartphone buyers were the most likely to say they would have reached for the iPhone rather than the device they ended up owning.

AT&T is Apple's exclusive partner in the U.S., a fact that many believe will change in 2011 when others, most likely Verizon, start selling the iPhone.

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

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