Apple (still) inspires most love from consumers, says study

Technically Incorrect: An extensive study of customer engagement shows that in phones, computers and tablets, Apple is the brand that enjoys the most emotional commitment.

Technically Incorrect offers a slightly twisted take on the tech that's taken over our lives.


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Winning in love.

James Martin/CNET

You always knew this.

Some people, though, neither like it nor even understand it.

They say Apple's products are rarely original. They say Apple waits for others to make the mistakes and then, well, picks up the pieces and makes the product look pretty.

Oh, and then there's the supposedly devious marketing.

You know, all that nice music and those pretty pictures and, for years, those white backgrounds -- the sort of thing that some in the tech world regarded as frippery when compared with listing a thousand specs.

The fact is, though, that the Apple brand inspires a peculiar level of love, one that makes people stand around on a cold street just to be one of the first to buy a new product.

Apple is often at the top of most valuable brand lists -- Forbes', for example. And teens are even more in love with iPhones than they ever were.

A new survey suggests that nothing has changed with that love thing.

Brand Keys, a self-described "brand engagement and customer loyalty research consultancy," has just released its 2016 Customer Loyalty Engagement Index.

It examined 12 tech categories, from flatscreen TVs to headphones, computers to tablets, IM apps to phones.

Apple came out on top in smartphones, tablets and laptops.

"The consumer engagement process today is more dependent on emotional values than ever," Robert Passikoff, president of Brand Keys, said in a press release. "As rational attributes have become price-of-entry 'givens' for today's consumers, emotional values have become more problematic for brands -- not brand outreach or messaging, but how to accurately determine which emotional values a brand should leverage to emotionally engage consumers."

This is something Apple has traded on from its inception. Late Apple co-founder Steve Jobs wanted his company's earliest computers to feel more human, to say "hello."

He understood that if you inspire a positive emotional reaction, rationality is thrust into the background.

Apple's critics call this a "reality distortion field," but it's actually using every element of design to enchant.

Samsung is beginning to recognize this truth. Its Galaxy line of phones -- especially the Edge series -- is now far more visually inspiring.

Equally, critics have suggested that Apple's grasp of software design is faltering, with both complication and poor functionality setting in. That doesn't seem to be reflected in these results.

It must be heartening that, at a time when Apple doesn't seem to have everyone on its side with respect to its fight with the FBI, the brand itself seems as robust as ever.

Apple didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Brand Keys survey was conducted this year among 42,792 people aged 18 to 65.

In other tech categories, Samsung came out on top in flatscreen TVs, Lyft in app-based ride sharing and WhatsApp in instant messaging. In another win for Apple, Beats, which it owns, had the most love in headphones.

Some might be surprised that the winner in wireless phone services wasn't Verizon, but AT&T.

Perhaps customers are actually hearing it now.

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