Surprise! iPhone Users Love Their Phones, Hate Their Network

iphones1Bring a magnifying glass if you’re looking for surprises in a new study from CFI Group. The market research firm has just released the findings of a survey of more than 1,000 U.S. smartphone users that holds true to form: iPhone users love their devices but hate AT&T’s (s t) network; Verizon Wireless operates a rock-solid network but lacks high-end handsets; and consumers — not business users — are driving growth in the space.

Apple’s (s aapl) ubiquitous phone fared well in CFI’s study, with 92 percent of iPhone users claiming they own “their ideal smartphone,” and the device scored highest in terms of user satisfaction with applications. Android-based handsets and the Palm (s palm) Pre also scored fairly well, with each rating a 77 on a 100-point scale, outperforming the BlackBerry (73) and Palm Treo (70). The dreaded “other” category — which included Symbian- and Windows Mobile-based handsets — rated a 66.

Unsurprisingly, the survey demonstrated a clear trend in why users choose certain types of handsets:

There is clear differentiation between the newer smartphones (iPhone, Android, and Pre) and the older smartphones. Older phones offer prospective buyers the nuts and bolts — e-mail, calendar, and perhaps web browsing — but little else. Applications, mostly an afterthought for older smartphones, are critical for customers of newer smartphones….The interface/operating system and looks/design of the phone are also more important for purchasers of newer smartphones. In short, customers expect more from these newer smartphones. These higher expectations raise the stakes for customer satisfaction — do things well, and customers will be delighted; do them poorly and customers will punish the failures.

The thing I found particularly interesting about the study, though, is that — unlike Om — most consumers won’t give up their iPhones despite AT&T’s network woes. AT&T scored lowest in customer-satisfaction ratings, and 50 percent of iPhone users said they’d like to switch service providers. But few iPhone owners seem willing to sacrifice the device to make that move. Given the stellar reputation of Verizon’s network, the nation’s largest operator has a huge opportunity to build on its lead if it can offer an intuitive, high-tech gadget that — like the iPhone — encourages subscribers to consume mobile data. And it’s looking more and more like the Palm Pre might just be that device.