Apple iOS still rules but Windows Phone 7 edges Android in user satisfaction

Apple's iOS-based iPhone continues to be the preferred smartphone for nearly 50% of consumers, with Android the top choice for about one-third of them. The real surprise is evidence that Microsoft's Windows Phone OS now outstrips Android in user satisfaction.

Even without an announcement about a new iPhone from Apple, nearly half of all consumers planning to buy a smartphone in the next 90 days will be happy to buy the existing iPhone 4, according to survey by ChangeWave, a Rockville, Md., research firm that tracks changes in consumer and corporate electronics buying.

MORE APPLE: iPhone rumor roundup

Fully 46% of the 4,163 mainly U.S. consumers surveyed say they prefer a smartphone with Apple's iOS firmware. That's up two points from the March survey. One-third of those surveyed (32% more precisely) prefer to buy an Android device. That's a one-point improvement over the previous survey.

Preference for Research in Motion's BlackBerry OS continued its decline, this time by one point, to 4%, its lowest point since ChangeWave began its studies in January 2008. [See a graphic comparison of the three platforms here.]

The preference for Apple hinges on the consistently high customer satisfaction with the phone and its software, far outstripping all rivals. Seven out of 10 iOS customers say they are "very satisfied" with the firmware. By contrast, 50% of Android users report the same level of satisfaction, and only 26% of BlackBerry OS users.

Microsoft at first appears to fare only slightly better than RIM. Overall, 27% of the Microsoft users in the survey report being "very satisfied." But this number is for "Microsoft OS," which covers both the older Windows Mobile OS and the radically different Windows Phone OS, introduced on handsets in November 2010. Satisfaction levels vary dramatically between these two groups.

Only 14% of users of the older Windows Mobile OS are "very satisfied," according to ChangeWave. But that number soars to 57% for those with Windows Phone handsets. That's higher than the "very satisfied" among Android users, though still 13% below the "very satisfied" iOS users.

As the ChangeWave report notes, "the higher Windows Phone 7 rating has yet to produce a sustained momentum boost for Microsoft in term of buyer preferences." Microsoft will release the Mango update for Windows Phone 7 handsets in the fall. [See "Developers find a lot to love in Windows Phone 7 Mango."] It's expected that phone-makers will release new phones to run Mango, including Nokia, which scrapped its own OS development to adopt Windows Phone 7 for all future smartphones. An apparently authentic recent video on YouTube shows Nokia CEO Stephen Elop demonstrating to a group of Nokia employees what he called the company's first Windows Phone 7 device, code-named Sea Ray.

Of course, this fall is also the time frame when Apple will release iOS 5 for millions of existing iPhones, along with its iCloud service, and is expected to unveil iPhone 5, about which rumors continue to swirl. [See our most recent iPhone 5 rumor roll-up.]

In terms of brand-named smartphone models, Apple's iPhone enjoys the "highest level of demand in the smart phone industry," ChangeWave reports. As mentioned, 48% of consumers planning to buy a smartphone over the next 90 days plan to choose iPhone. Only 8% plan to go with a smartphone from Motorola, which has pinned its mobile future to Android. That's a drop of four points from the prior survey, and ChangeWave argues that "Motorola is now seeing a loss of market share at least partially attributable to the Verizon iPhone release that occurred earlier this year."

The situation for RIM is more dire. "In seven of the past 10 ChangeWave quarterly surveys since 2008, we have seen a drop in RIM's planned purchase share. Importantly, its customer satisfaction ratings have also fallen in nine of the past 10 ChangeWave surveys -- and our latest survey shows them at their lowest level ever for this most critical of indicators," according to the report.

ChangeWave also tried to evaluate the impact of Apple's June announcement of iCloud, which is an online service that automatically stores a user's apps, photos, music, documents and other information, and wirelessly pushes them to any Apple device. In the survey, 29% of existing Apple product owners say that iCloud makes them "more likely" to buy Apple products in the future. Among non-Apple owners, 13% said the same thing.

The full ChangeWave report is online.

John Cox covers wireless networking and mobile computing for Network World.

Twitter: http://twitter.com/johnwcoxnww

Email: john_cox@nww.com

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John Cox

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