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Survey: Consumers smitten with smartphones

Once a device solely for the corporate crowd, the smartphone has taken off among consumers, who love the iPhone and its ilk--but not necessarily their providers.

Most new smartphone users are now consumers, a dramatic change from just a few years ago when the gadgets were primarily in the hands of business types, according to a survey released Wednesday by research firm CFI Group.

The survey "CFI Group Smartphone Satisfaction Study 2009" found that smartphone users are no longer just reading e-mail or scheduling appointments but also surfing the Web, streaming video and music, downloading games, and snapping pictures. Smartphones are now seen more by consumers as minicomputers than as cell phones, according to CFI.

Predictably, Apple's iPhone is credited with igniting the growth of smartphones, and it's the clear leader of the pack. The survey found that the iPhone has the most loyalty and praise among its users, with 92 percent of iPhone owners saying they have the ideal phone. Around 90 percent have recommended the device, while 35 percent said they bought the iPhone based on word-of-mouth advice.

The iPhone also is tops in customer satisfaction, ranking 83 on a 100-point scale, according to CFI. The newer Palm Pre and Android-based phones each scored 77 on the scale, followed by Research In Motion's Blackberry at 73 and the Palm Treo at 70. The rest of the pack, including phones running Windows Mobile and Symbian, trailed the list with an overall grade of 66.

CFI Group

"The iPhone is the best thing to happen to the smartphone industry because it captured the imagination of a whole new set of consumers that might not have made the smartphone jump," said Doug Helmreich, program director with CFI Group.

But the growing dependence on smartphones is a catch-22, since consumers now demand more from their devices. And wireless carriers, most notably AT&T, have struggled to provide the quality of service that people want. For this reason and others, the survey found a disparity between the most popular smartphones and the most popular providers.

Of the pack, Verizon Wireless was considered the ideal carrier among 86 percent of users questioned, and it scored 79 out of 100 for customer satisfaction. But only 38 percent of Verizon consumers said their phone is the ideal smartphone, the lowest among all carriers.

For AT&T, the situation is reversed, but more among iPhone users. Half of all iPhone owners surveyed said they would like to jump ship to another provider, but 75 percent of non-iPhone users said they would stick with AT&T. For customer satisfaction, AT&T scored 69 out of 100 among iPhone users, and 73 among non-iPhone owners.

CFI Group

The survey also raised the question of whether other carriers might take a hit as consumers continue to want more from the iPhone and its brethren.

"The iPhone raised the bar not only for other smartphones, but for the networks as well," said Helmreich. "The new breed of smartphone consumers expect more from their phones, and the iPhone may represent only the tip of a data-intensive iceberg."

To compile the survey, CFI Group questioned 1,074 people from August 3 to 10 about their smartphone use.