iPhone Tops in Smartphone Customer Satisfaction

Despite the recent "antennagate" controversy and the fact that it's still tethered to but one wireless service provider, Apple's iPhone held firm to its top customer satisfaction rating for the fourth consecutive year, according to a J.D. Power and Associates survey of smartphone owners.

Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) garnered 800 out of a possible 1,000 in the survey, narrowly outpacing Motorola (NYSE: MOT) and HTC at 791 points and 781 points, respectively.

The study queried more than 6,800 smartphone users between January and June of this year.

So what characteristics are most important to today's smartphone users?

According to J.D. Power, ease of use and the prowess of the mobile operating system were neck and neck in terms of importance at 26 percent and 24 percent, respectively. Other factors cited included physical design (23 percent), features (19 percent) and battery life (8 percent).

The iPhone was lauded by respondents for its ease of use, operating system and physical design.

Handset manufacturer LG was rated tops in its category with 731 points, followed by Sanyo (712 points) and Samsung (709).

And while smartphones still only represent about 19 percent of the overall cell phone market, demand for models from Apple, Research In Motion (NASDAQ: RIMM) and a bevy of Android-powered devices will continue to surge thanks largely to the proliferation of new mobile applications.

J.D. Power's survey found that more than two-thirds of users download games to their mobile devices and 54 percent use them to download maps and weather information. Another 41 percent visited sites like Apple's App Store to download utility applications while 36 percent paid for business-specific apps, an indication that smartphones are fast becoming as important to the enterprise as desktop and laptop computers.

All these new functions, mobile apps and enhanced operating systems are driving phenomenal sales for all the major smartphone vendors and there's good reason to believe even greater riches are to be had once the economy finally shakes off its prolonged malaise.

Cell phone customers are waiting longer than ever to upgrade their devices, a testament to both a lousy economy and the seemingly endless barrage of new phones hitting the market every month.

According to the survey, customers are keeping their wireless cell phones for an average of 20.5 months, the longest period of time since the study was first conducted in 1999, when most people held onto their phones for an average of 17.3 months.

"One possible reason for the significant increase in the length of mobile phone ownership is that more customers are delaying an upgrade purchase due to the general economic downturn, in which the expense of purchasing a new device could outweigh the added benefit of owning it," Kirk Parsons, senior director of wireless services at J.D. Power and Associates, said in a statement.

"Typically, when upgrading to a new cell phone, there's the added expense of either subscribing to a more expensive service plan and/or incurring termination fees when switching service providers," he added.

The cost of owning a mobile device is also putting a pinch on consumers, with average monthly wireless service bills jumping to $78 this year, up from $69 a month in 2007.

Finally, J.D. Power's survey found that 14 percent of respondents said they will "definitely" or "probably" switch to a different carrier sometime in the next year because of service problems. Verizon Wireless was ranked highest in satisfaction overall, and AT&T Wireless was ranked last in all but two regions in the U.S.

Larry Barrett is a senior editor at InternetNews.com, the news service of Internet.com, the network for technology professionals.


iPhone, Apple, smartphone, Customer satisfaction, mobile devices