iPhone again scores top spot at customer satisfaction

Apple is still the reigning champ in satisfaction among smartphone users, says J.D. Power. But HTC and Samsung are also faring well.

Lance Whitney Contributing Writer
Lance Whitney is a freelance technology writer and trainer and a former IT professional. He's written for Time, CNET, PCMag, and several other publications. He's the author of two tech books--one on Windows and another on LinkedIn.
Lance Whitney
3 min read
J.D. Power and Associates

iPhone owners are the happiest among smartphone customers, but mobile users in general share the same major beef: battery life.

For the seventh consecutive time, Apple was tops among smartphone makers with a satisfaction score of 839 out of 1,000, according to results from J.D. Power's latest survey, which is done every six months. The company did well in all of the factors measured by the survey--performance, ease of operation, features, and physical design. But owners were most satisfied with the iPhone's features and ease of operation.

HTC took second place with a score of 798, followed by Samsung with 769 and Motorola with 758.

On the downside, smartphone owners across the board were all critical of the same item: battery performance.

The study found that battery life was the worst aspect of owning a smartphone and one of the few areas that has declined in satisfaction since J.D. Power's last survey in September. Smartphone owners happy with their device's battery power are naturally more likely to buy the same brand than are those turned off by the battery life.

Ironically, the iPhone 4S has been criticized by many owners for its battery performance. Apple has tried to fix the glitch by releasing a series of OS updates, with iOS 5.1 launched last week. But many say the battery drain bug persists.

However, users reserved most of their complaints for 4G smartphones, which earned lower grades on battery performance than did their 3G counterparts. Such phones chew up more battery power searching for 4G signals. J.D. Power also found that owners of 4G phones typically use their devices more frequently, putting further strain on the battery.

"Both carriers and manufacturers recognize the fact that battery life needs to be improved," Kirk Parsons, a senior director at J.D. Power and Associates, said in a statement. "However, the study uncovers the need for a greater sense of urgency--short battery life can result in perceived phone problems, higher rates of merchandise returns, and customer defections."

Until the new iPad made its debut today, Apple had resisted jumping onto the 4G bandwagon, citing battery life as one concern. But the company may have solved this persistent problem.

"Our industry checks indicate Apple has made notable progress in improving battery life that has plagued competitors," Sterne Agee analyst Shaw Wu said in a recent report. "This is due to Apple's ownership of core intellectual property including systems design, semiconductors, battery chemistry, and software."

If so, then Apple's next iPhone, which is expected to offer 4G connectivity, could sidestep some of the complaints about battery life that have hurt other 4G phones.

Correction at 8:29 a.m. PT: This post initially misstated Apple's tenure in the survey's top spot. It's held that honor for seven times consecutively, not for seven years. The survey is done every six months and the iPhone was first introduced in 2007.