iPhone 'tsunami' set to wash over rivals, says survey

Apple's share of consumers planning to buy a smart phone jumps 60 per cent, thanks to 3G

Pent-up demand for a faster iPhone, sated starting on Friday when the second-generation 3G phone debuted, will result in a "tsunami" of purchases in the next 90 days, a research firm reported Friday.

"We don't use the word 'tsunami' lightly," said Paul Carton, research director at ChangeWave Research. He was describing the results of a survey that polled more than 3,500 US consumers right after Apple revealed the iPhone 3G at the company's Worldwide Developer Conference in June. "Clearly, the iPhone 3G will be the product of the summer and fall."

Of the 10.5 per cent of those surveyed who said they were planning to buy a smart phone in the next 90 days, 56 per cent tagged the iPhone as their intended purchase. The 21-point increase translates into a 60 per cent jump from the number who pegged the iPhone the last time ChangeWave polled consumers in March 2008.

The reason for the leap, said Carton, is directly tied to the launch of the iPhone 3G. "What consumers told us consistently over the last six months, their biggest issue, was the lack of 3G and the slowness of the network," he said. "They've been waiting for the new phone. Even before the rumors started [about the impending iPhone 3G], the surveys were showing that speed was the top issue.

"They've been just waiting for today," Carton added. "It's a huge bump for Apple."

Apple's main rival in the US smart phone market, Research In Motion (RIM) -- its BlackBerry remains the device of choice for business users -- will take a hit in the short term, said Carton, if the survey results pan out. Of those who said they intend to buy a new smart phone in the next 90 days, 23 per cent said it would be a BlackBerry, down six points from the 29 per cent that had said that three months earlier.

The rise in Apple's share of planned purchases, along with converging strategies by both Apple and RIM, will solidify the trend toward a two-horse race on the smart phone track. RIM, for example, will be introducing a touch-screen version of its BlackBerry, dubbed "Thunder," in the third quarter, according to reports.

"The big picture is that the overall smart phone market is in the process of shaking out," said Carton. "What was a multi-company market is quickly becoming King Kong versus Godzilla as the second tier players fall out."

It certainty doesn't hurt the iPhone's outlook that Apple's customers remain staunch believers in their smart phones. More than half of the people polled who own a first-generation iPhone told ChangeWave that they were "very likely" to upgrade to the new 3G model, and half of them said that they would do so in the first three months of its availability.

ChangeWave also continued to see "incredible" customer satisfaction ratings for the iPhone and Apple. Almost four out of five iPhone owners -- 78 per cent -- reported that they were "very satisfied" with their phone. A "respectable" 54 per cent of RIM's users, meanwhile, said the same about their BlackBerry devices.

"We'll see how strong RIM's counterattack is later this year," said Carton. "But these latest moves by Apple have increased its future potential in the enterprise market," he added, referring to the new Exchange-to-iPhone sync that debuted Friday as Apple updated the phone's firmware.

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Gregg Keizer

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