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The iPhone: The right device at the right time

Two research reports released last week indicate that Apple released the iPhone just in time to benefit from a major consumer shift toward "converged devices" – in other words, smart phones and wireless handhelds.

One report comes from Canalys, a technology market research company based in the U.K. Canalys says that shipments of converged devices rose 72 percent year-over-year in the fourth quarter of 2007.

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According to the Canalys data, Nokia owns the worldwide smart mobile device market with a 52.9 percent share. RIM comes in second with 11.4 percent. But Apple edged out Motorola for third with 6.5 percent -- a noteworthy achievement considering the iPhone was available for just six months of the year and in just four countries.

"When you consider that it launched part way through the year, with limited operator and country coverage, and essentially just one product, Apple has shown very clearly that it can make a difference and has sent a wake-up call to the markets leaders," Canalys senior analyst Pete Cunningham says in the report.

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In the U.S. Canalys estimates that the iPhone took 28 percent of the converged device market in Q4 of 2007, putting it in second place behind RIM (41 percent) but way ahead of Palm (9 percent).

What's remarkable about Canalys' U.S. numbers is that the iPhone's 28 percent share exceeds the combined share of all the Windows Mobile device vendors (21 percent). At least in the world of smart phones, the Mac OS has bested its Windows rival.

The other report is a survey from Rockville, Md.-based ChangeWave Research, which examined cellphone buying among 4,182 respondents.

"Research in Motion [maker of the Blackberry] and Apple appear to be the primary beneficiaries of the seismic shift toward more-advanced cell phone," the ChangeWave report says. The iPhone ranks first among those planning to buy a cellphone in the next six months with 17 percent while RIM is a close second with 16 percent.

At least one Apple competitor, Motorola, appears to have suffered from the introduction of the iPhone last year. The percentage of those surveyed planning to buy a Motorola phone in the next six months has plunged from 33 percent in October 2006 to 11 percent in the latest survey. So much for the early criticism that Apple would struggle against the established cellphone makers.

Meanwhile, Apple's partner AT&T appears to have gotten a boost from being the sole iPhone service provider in the U.S. Among respondents who plan to switch carriers in the next six months 25 percent named AT&T, a gain of 2 percentage points.

In the customer satisfaction portion of the survey, the iPhone had an extraordinary showing. Apple led the pack by a large margin with 72 percent of iPhone owners saying they were "very satisfied." RIM was second with 55 percent and LG third with 41 percent. Palm was last with 30 percent.

The iPhone's high customer satisfaction ranking reflects two other ChangeWave surveys covering Apple products. In a survey on operating system satisfaction, 81 percent of Mac OS X Leopard users were "very satisfied" versus 53 percent for Windows XP Home and 27 percent for Vista Home Premium.

Another survey released in December on PC purchasing habits showed 80 percent of recent Mac buyers "very satisfied," with Dell a remote second at 61 percent.

Apple's consistently high customer satisfaction ratings should pay off as time goes on, attracting more and more new customers while keeping existing customers loyal to the brand.

Was there any bad news in the reports? Yeah, a little. The ChangeWave survey showed a 3 percent drop in respondents planning to buy any cellphone in the next six months, from 26 percent to 23 percent. It looks like concerns about the economy may slow spending on cellphones over the next few months, and that's likely to affect iPhone sales.

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