Most Smartphone Users Open to Brand Switch: Survey

A new survey this week by German market research firm GfK Group makes it clear that smartphone users have evolved in the past few years, placing a higher priority on the overall mobile experience and ecosystem and less on loyalty to a particular brand.

The survey of more than 2,600 smartphone users in the U.S., Germany, Brazil, the UK and China found that 37 percent plan to upgrade their devices during the next upgrade cycle and that 56 percent of those folks were "keeping their options open" when it comes to picking their next smartphone.

While most consumers were initially enamored by the hardware -- the thin form factor of the iPhone, embedded Wi-Fi and high-resolution cameras-- today's smartphone buyers are looking for a device that has an operating system that's accommodating of third-party apps, can support apps and services from the cloud and offers an extensive and diverse mix of applications for both consumer and business objectives.

"The differentiating factor now, especially among buyers of smartphones, is the 'experience,' the possibilities smartphones enable and the needs they satisfy," the report said. "As such, it is often more appropriate to talk about the attachment consumers place on their smartphones being a direct result of the experiences provided within a mobile ecosystem."

Of those queried, only 25 percent said they plan to remain loyal to their current smartphone brand.

Not surprisingly, iPhone owners are the most loyal, with 59 percent saying they plan to retain Apple's (NASDAQ: AAPL) flagship mobile device when it comes time to upgrade. Thirty-five percent of Research In Motion's (NASDAQ: RIMM) fans said they intended to stick with their BlackBerrys and 28 percent of Android owners said they will keep the faith. Nokia (NYSE: NOK) can expect only about 24 percent of its current customers to stick with its Symbian-based devices.

With billions of dollars at stake, smartphone vendors and application developers are trying to find the perfect blend of aesthetic appeal and functionality to satisfy a market that IDC predicts will grow more than 55 percent year-over-year through 2012.

So which devices are consumers eyeing for their next purchase?

GfK's report found that devices running Apple's iOS 4.2 mobile operating system (iPhone and iPad) are the likely next choice of 53 percent of future buyers, narrowly edging out Android devices (51 percent). Windows Phone 7 checked in next at 41 percent followed by BlackBerry OS and Symbian at 33 percent and 23 percent, respectively.

"Clearly, the positive user experience provided by Apple and Android ecosystems is having a positive impact on their current user base," the report said. "Eighty-five percent of Apple users would consider re-purchasing an Apple smartphone and similarly 84 percent of Android users would also consider an Android-based smartphone."

The ability to sync their mobile data and applications with their PCs was cited as the top priority of future smartphone buyers when evaluating mobile operating systems, followed by the ability to use cloud-based services on their mobile devices and access to applications designed for both consumer and business use.

"As consumers continue to buy into experiences, the mobile ecosystem will be vital to attracting the next wave of smartphone users and winning the hearts and minds of existing smartphone users," GfK analyst Ryan Garner wrote in the report. "With many compelling options, it will be the manufacturers whose ecosystems offer diverse services, relevant content and a simple user experience across a range of device form factors who will find themselves in the driving seat."

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


Blackberry, iPhone, smartphone, mobile apps, mobile devices