The Apple Inc. (NASDAQ: AAPL) iPhone 4 launched in late June and was initially heralded as one of the most successful product releases in Apple’s history. But within days the firestorm over reception and antenna issues unleashed an exceptional degree of critical commentary.
Despite this controversy, one of the biggest unknowns has been what actual iPhone 4 owners really think about their new smart phones. To find out, a July ChangeWave survey has taken an in-depth look at the reactions and opinions of 213 Apple iPhone 4 owners.
Customer Satisfaction: iPhone 4 vs. iPhone 3GS
The initial satisfaction ratings for the iPhone 4 show a high degree of customer approval – with 72% of owners saying they’re Very Satisfied and 21% Somewhat Satisfied with their new phone.
But despite these good scores, the initial iPhone 4 ratings aren’t quite as extraordinary as the early iPhone 3GS satisfaction numbers seen in our August 2009 survey. Here’s a comparison of the two iPhone models’ in terms of customer satisfaction.
Similarly, one-in-three iPhone 4 owners say the model Exceeds their expectations and 50% say it Meets expectations – which is also a bit less positive than the findings of our iPhone 3GS survey. But then again, the 3GS wasn’t met with a firestorm of controversy upon its launch.
The emerging pattern is that while the iPhone 4 has been very well received by new owners, the survey findings aren’t quite at the nosebleed levels seen at a similar point in time for the 3GS launch.
What Owners Like and Dislike Most
We asked owners about the specific features they like best and dislike most about their new iPhone 4.
Likes. By a wide margin, Screen Resolution (49%) ranks as the top thing iPhone 4 owners like best. Second is a new upgrade feature, the 5 Megapixel Camera with LED Flash (31%), followed by the Touch Screen Interface (30%).
Dislikes. The biggest Achilles’ Heel for the iPhone 4 remains AT&T (NYSE: T), with 27% of owners saying they don’t like the Requirement to Use AT&T’s Network and 24% disliking the Coverage/ Speed/ Quality of AT&T’s 3G Network.
Back in 2009, the number one dislike among iPhone 3GS owners was Short Battery Life (41%). In a major improvement, only 15% of iPhone 4 owners now say short battery life is what they dislike most.
We note that Antenna Issues (24%) is now tied for the number two dislike, followed by Excessive Dropped Calls (23%). But when we took a closer look at the issue of reception and dropped calls we found some surprising results.
iPhone 4 Reception and Dropped Calls
The month of July featured an unprecedented level of media focus on the issue of iPhone 4 reception when the phone was held a certain way. As Steve Jobs himself pointed out in his July 16th press conference, the problem occurs when a user inadvertently obstructs the antenna with their hand causing signal loss.
To gauge the impact of the antenna obstruction issue, we asked iPhone 4 owners to tell us how big of a problem it was for them. Nearly two-thirds reported they Haven’t Experienced Any Problem and another 14% reported it Wasn’t Much of a Problem. However one-in-five did report it was Somewhat of a Problem (14%) or a Very Big Problem (7%).
In his July press conference, Steve Jobs offered a free case to all those who purchase their iPhone 4 before the end of September. According to Apple and other sources, this eliminates the antenna issue.
When we asked iPhone 4 owners whether they were satisfied with Apple’s proposed solution, nearly three-in-four (73%) reported they were Very or Somewhat Satisfied. But again, in an emerging pattern, almost one-in-five respondents (18%) reported they were still Very or Somewhat Unsatisfied with the Apple solution.
The Issue of Dropped Calls. Historically, our ChangeWave surveys have focused on the issue of dropped calls exclusively among wireless service providers. The belief has been that differences in dropped call rates are largely the result of differences between wireless provider networks.
For example, in our most recent consumer survey on wireless providers, Verizon had the industry’s best dropped calls rating and AT&T had the worst.
Below is a look at the dropped call rating for Verizon vs. AT&T over our last eight ChangeWave Wireless Providers surveys. Since September 2008, Verizon’s rating has improved slightly while AT&T’s has continued to worsen.
Switching to the current survey, below we’ve taken a close-up look at the dropped call rating among iPhone 4 owners and compared it to the dropped call rating for iPhone 3GS owners from a June 2010 ChangeWave survey.
We believe a fair and accurate comparison is possible here because both groups of owners primarily use AT&T as their service provider. In other words, we’re able to factor out differences between the two groups that could be due to different provider networks.
Here are the results:
In a surprising finding, iPhone 4 owners reported a better dropped call rating (5.2%) than their 3GS counterparts (6.3%).
In other words, despite the hoopla surrounding the antenna issue, in actuality iPhone 4 owners report experiencing slightly fewer dropped calls on the average than do iPhone 3GS owners.
Bottom Line: Despite the waves of controversy that surrounded the iPhone 4 within days of its launch, the latest Apple release is outperforming almost every other smart phone in the industry in terms of overall customer satisfaction and meeting owners’ expectations.
While one-in-five iPhone 4 owners do say the antenna has caused them problems, by an overwhelming margin they are satisfied with Apple’s solution.
And in reality, iPhone 4 owners report experiencing fewer dropped calls than do iPhone 3GS owners.
That said, while the iPhone 4 has been very well received, its owner ratings aren’t as high as the numbers we saw at a similar point in time for the 3GS launch.
This is likely attributable to the fact that one-in-five iPhone 4 owners appear to have been at least somewhat negatively affected by the phone’s reception and antenna issues and the ensuing drumbeat of controversy.
But the good news for Apple is that these issues appear to be clearing up for good – and if they do, this survey shows there is a high likelihood the iPhone 4’s customer satisfaction levels could end up equaling or surpassing those of the 3GS.
From Apple’s perspective, that’s the happy ending they should hope for. Next week we’ll be releasing the final results of our HTC Incredible and HTC EVO New Owners survey — and according to the preliminary findings these latest Android models could well represent one of the strongest challenges to the iPhone since its inception.