March 16, 2012, 11:36 AM — Apple once again ranks at the top of J.D. Power's annual smartphone customer satisfaction survey.
No surprise there -- it's the seventh consecutive time the iPhone has led the list, after all. Nor is it a surprise that Research in Motion and Nokia were ranked near the bottom by survey respondents. (In fact, Nokia barely finished ahead of Palm, which, let's face it, is like eking out a primary win against a dead candidate.)
A more interesting finding of the J.D. Power survey is what engenders loyalty to a particular manufacturer:
[S]martphone owners who are highly satisfied with their device's battery life are more likely to repurchase the same brand of smartphone, compared with owners who are less satisfied.
"Both carriers and manufacturers recognize the fact that battery life needs to be improved," Kirk Parsons, senior director of wireless services 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."
So while device design, ease of use and features all contribute to a smartphone customer's overall level of satisfaction, the No. 1 determinant is performance (cited by 35% of respondents). And since bricks generally come up short in the performance category, that makes battery life a critical factor in customer satisfaction and retention.
Unfortunately for smartphone manufacturers, satisfaction with battery life has dropped since J.D. Power's 2011 study (remember the complaints late last year about the iPhone 4S's battery), though that may be in large part because of the increasing popularity of 4G devices.
"Among owners of 4G-enabled smartphones, battery performance ratings average 6.1 on a 10-point scale -- considerably lower than satisfaction among owners of 3G smartphones (6.7)," J.D. Power reported. "Part of this difference stems from the fact that new 4G smartphones use substantial battery life searching for next-generation network signals, which tend to be scarcer than 3G signals."
On top of that, J.D. Power said, owners of 4G-enabled smartphones use their devices a lot more.
"[T]hey talk, text, email, and surf the Web more often than do customers with 3G smartphones or traditional handsets -- which puts a significantly higher demand on the battery," the report said.
A real breakthrough in extending battery life appears to be three to five years away.