iPhone rules smartphone roost

Motorola and HTC have been tracking fairly closely in consumer demand over the past 12 to 18 months

More consumers will be buying a smartphone in the next three months than ever before. And the big winner, by a big margin, is the super-achieving Apple iPhone.

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The latest quarterly survey of consumer smartphone demand, by ChangeWave Research, found that just over 16% of respondents (mainly U.S. consumers) plan to buy a smartphone, double the percentage of a year ago.

The survey, available online, was made from June 14-24, with 4,028 respondents.

Those purchase plans spell good news for Apple (and for the iPhone's exclusive U.S. carrier, AT&T): 52% of the sample plan to buy an iPhone, a huge increase compared to 31% in the first quarter of 2010. HTC, which has been pushing Android-based phones is another beneficiary: 19% have their eyes on an HTC phone, compared to 12% in the march quarter.

By contrast, demand for Motorola smartphones has flattened out, although that could change with the result of the highly-anticipated Motorola Droid X due out tomorrow on Verizon.

But the next three months could be grim for RIM: in the March survey 14% of respondents planned to buy a BlackBerry, but the most recent survey shows only 6% now plan to do so.

According to ChangeWave, Motorola and HTC have been tracking fairly closely in consumer demand over the past 12 to 18 months. Motorola leaped ahead last December following the success of the Motorola Droid. Since then, respondents saying they plan to buy an HTC phone has been steadily rising, from 9% at the end of 2009, to 19% in the June survey. (One mark of HTC's success may be Apple's decision to slap it with a patent infringement claim.)

Almost completely missing from the latest numbers are Microsoft's Windows Mobile platform, and Palm's webOS smartphones (Palm was acquired by HP). Windows Mobile has shrunk to about 2% to 3% in terms of preference, according to ChangeWave. Microsoft's radically redesigned mobile OS is Windows Phone 7, which will appear in a new generation of smartphones starting probably in October 2010.

"Customer satisfaction" with their smartphone purchase is a critical metric, according to Paul Carton, vice president of research for ChangeWave. That's because it's not only a strong indicator of future plans but also an influencer on the buying decisions of other consumers who might not be as satisfied with their own smartphone.

Users of the iPhone continue to have very high satisfaction levels, consistently between 70% and 80% of them saying they are "very satisfied" with their phone. In the most recent survey: 73%.

Dramatically lower percentages of users for all main rivals report being very satisfied (ChangeWave cautions that these numbers include users of legacy phones, not just the most recent smartphones, which individually have "very satisfied" ratings in the 40% to 60+% range): overall, 39% of HTC buyers were very satisfied; 34% for Motorola.

The most dramatic change is the steady decline in satisfaction for RIM BlackBerry users: RIM had consistently scored in the 50% range ("very satisfied") making it second behind Apple. But, Carton notes, for the last seven quarters – nearly two years – that percentage has been steadily decreasing. In the June survey, just 30% of BlackBerry buyers said they were "very satisfied."

"The quality of the [RIM] phones didn't deteriorate," Carton says. "It's [that] the things that used to drive satisfaction are no longer enough. Great e-mail, for example, is more and more being taken as a given."

RIM is set to announce a whole new generation of smartphones, and a new OS version, creating the opportunity to reverse these trends, Carton says.

Mobile OS preferences show corresponding trends. The survey asked what mobile OS the respondent preferred on the smartphone they planned to buy. Fifty percent selected iOS, up from 29% in March; Google's Android remained at 30%; and BlackBerry OS dropped from 12% in March to about half that in the June survey.

Again, user satisfaction with the Apple mobile OS is extremely high: 72% said they were "very satisfied" with the iOS; by contrast 56% said the same of Android. Further, 56% of iPhone 3g and 3GS users said they were "very likely" to upgrade to iOS4.

ChangeWave asked non-AT&T users if they would buy the iPhone if it became available on their wireless carrier. Only 13% said they were "very likely" to buy it. Another 21% said they were “somewhat likely." So one in three expressed some degree of interest in iPhone. Nearly 40% said it was "unlikely" and 25% said "don't know."

John Cox covers wireless networking and mobile computing for Network World.Twitter: http://twitter.com/johnwcoxnwwBlog RSS feed

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John Cox

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