Apple's lead over Samsung in future-purchase plan survey cut in half

Gap between the two smartphone powers shrinks by 55%

Apple's iPhone lost ground in the last three months to smartphones from rival Samsung in a survey of consumers' future purchase plans, a market research firm said last week.

According to 451 Research's ChangeWave, of those 4,000 consumers polled who said they planned to buy a smartphone in the next 90 days, 40% said they would purchase an iPhone. That was a 10-percentage point drop from ChangeWave's last such survey, conducted in December 2012.

Meanwhile, 27% of the people planning to buy a smartphone in the next three months picked Samsung as the maker of their likely purchase, a six-percentage point increase from late last year.

Apple's lead over Samsung -- its biggest rival in most analysts' minds -- narrowed from 29 percentage points in December to 13 points in March 2013, when ChangeWave again conducted its purchase plan survey.

It's not unusual for future iPhone buying plan results to slump after the release of a new model, as many consumers know that Apple has historically launched one device annually. Apple, in fact, has cited those expectations to explain fading sales in the months leading up to a launch as rumors circulate of an impending new iPhone.

Apple last refreshed the iPhone in September 2012, when it launched the iPhone 5. Most, although not all, analysts believe Apple will introduce a new flagship phone, dubbed the "iPhone 5S," as well as a lower-cost iPhone, this summer.

Samsung's results may have been boosted by talk of the 5-in. Galaxy S4, which goes on sale in the U.S. this week at some carriers. ChangeWave conducted its survey March 4-19, a period during which Samsung revealed the Galaxy S4.

Or the results could have simply shown the continuation of an extended surge by Samsung, ChangeWave said.

"This is the fourth time in the past six surveys that we've seen a major leap for Samsung, and it's now at its highest level ever in a ChangeWave survey, double that of a year ago," said Andy Golub, a ChangeWave analyst, in an email. In March 2012, Samsung held a 13% share of intended purchases.

Other researchers have also tracked Samsung's climb in the U.S.

Earlier this month, comScore noted that Samsung's share of the U.S. subscriber market had increased by one percentage point to 21.3% between November 2012 and February 2013.

While more Android-powered smartphones are in use in the U.S. than iPhones, Apple continued to lead all manufacturers, comScore said.

ChangeWave also regularly asks consumers how satisfied they are with their current smartphone. In that arena, the iPhone continued to lead all comers, with 70% of owners saying they were "very satisfied" with the device. Samsung placed second in that poll, with 54% of owners answering the same way.

Apple's decline and Samsung's surge in a March poll of smartphone purchase plans cut the former's lead in half. (Image: 451 Research's ChangeWave.)

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed. His email address is gkeizer@computerworld.com.

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Gregg Keizer

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