Apple tops annual customer satisfaction survey, but lead shrinks

Windows PC makers boost scores as Vista-less netbook sales soar

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But like last year, operating systems played a part. "In 2007-2008, we saw a dip for most Windows-based machines," said VanAmburg. "Then, HP fell by three points in just one year. Windows Vista was wreaking havoc with the numbers," he added, repeating what ACSI's chief researcher said last year.

The rise in popularity of netbooks, which typically run Windows XP, was a factor, he said.

Microsoft has pushed Windows XP for netbooks because Vista has been deemed too slow and too bloated to be used on the low-memory, slow-processor machines. Microsoft has also sold XP to computer manufacturers at prices significantly less than Vista's, a key element in its strategy to bump Linux off netbooks, and one reason why the Windows division's revenues have been down three straight quarters.

Part of Apple's success stems from its chain of retail stores, which offer free support and troubleshooting to Mac owners, said VanAmburg. Microsoft, which will open at least a pair of its own retail stores later this year in California and Arizona, may be able to duplicate Apple's approach. "If Microsoft does succeed [in its retail program], we could see some more movement in the scores," he said.

Even the shaky economy, which some thought would trim Apple's sales, hasn't had an impact on the company's satisfaction scores, VanAmburg said. "We measure value, how price is related to quality," he said. "People are paying more for Apple's computers, but they perceive that the quality of the product is 'enough better.' "

In fact, Apple has increased its sales gains year-to-year faster than the industry average, or at least has seen lower declines than the average during the recession. In 2009's second calendar quarter, for instance, Apple sold 4% more Macs than it did in the same quarter the year before.

ACSI also measured consumer customer satisfaction with the top search engines, where Google maintained its lead over both Yahoo and Microsoft. Google, which again posted a score of 86 this year, led Yahoo by nine points and Microsoft by 11 points.

The poll's scores and commentary can be found on the organization's Web site.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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