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New iPhone looking good to a lot of consumers, survey says

Of those planning to buy a smart phone in the next three months, people eyeing an Apple iPhone outnumber those pondering a RIM BlackBerry by a two-to-one margin.

So says a smart phone survey of consumers conducted June 17-23 by Rockville-based ChangeWave Research. The company conducts periodic surveys on technology and business trends from amongst the members of its "ChangeWave Alliance."

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A remarkable 56 percent of the respondents said they planned to buy an iPhone in the next 90 days; 23 percent said they planned on purchasing a BlackBerry, a 6-point drop from a similar survey taken in March. All other manufacturers had 3 percent or less.

The iPhone number is 21 percent higher than it was in the March survey, and double what it was in the January survey. Though the hype building up to the iPhone 3G's launch tomorrow hasn't matched that of last year when the iPhone debuted, this data suggests a high level of consumer anticipation.

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Even though many consumers have waited for the arrival of the iPhone 3G, the product's market share has grown. Among the current smart phone owners surveyed 11 percent have an iPhone, a 2 percent increase from March and a 5 percent increase since January.

While market leader BlackBerry has held steady at 42 percent, Palm has dropped 4 percent since January to 14 percent of the market. Given the sales surge expected for the new iPhone and Palm's ever-sinking numbers, Apple should overtake Palm in the next survey.

Despite rapidly rising numbers in the planned purchase category, Apple has yet to make a dent in RIM's market share, which has actually increased a couple of points since the iPhone's debut last year.

Maybe the iPhone 3G will change that, but RIM is expected to unleash several new smart phone models in the coming months – the "Bold," the "Thunder" and the "Kickstart" – to thwart Apple's momentum in the consumer market as well as prevent any encroachment on its utter dominance of the enterprise market.

In the mobile operating system category, Apple's use of Mac OS X on the iPhone appears to be paying dividends. When asked which mobile OS they'd prefer on their next smart phone 43 percent said OS X, swamping the RIM OS (17 percent) and Windows Mobile (12 percent). Google's Android made the wish list of only 2 percent of the respondents.

That's a stark contrast to where things stand now: the RIM OS is on 40 percent of the respondents' current phones; Windows Mobile on 29 percent; Palm OS on 11 percent; and OS X on 10 percent.

A few more intriguing tidbits from the survey:

Steve Jobs: In this survey, ChangeWave threw in a rather unorthodox question about Steve Jobs, asking what effect his stepping down as Apple CEO would have on the likelihood they'd buy Apple products in the future. Most (68 percent) said it would have no effect, but 18 percent said they'd be less likely to buy from an Apple without Jobs at the helm (14 percent said they didn't know).

Some pundits have worried an Apple Inc. without Jobs would lack the vision to generate the exceptionally consumer-friendly products that have become routine since Jobs' return in 1997. The response to this question tells us that, products aside, Jobs' celebrity-like persona alone boosts sales. Astounding.

Why they buy: ChangeWave asked those planning to buy an iPhone which features most influenced their decision, allowing up to three choices each. Lower price was cited by 67 percent; 3G capability by 63 percent; GPS mapping by 47 percent; Microsoft Exchange support by 35 percent; and third party applications by a surprisingly low 20 percent. I expect third-party apps eventually to become a major driver of iPhone sales.

Customer satisfaction: The iPhone retained its large lead over the BlackBerry: 78 percent said they were "very satisfied" with the iPhone compared to 54 percent for the BlackBerry, almost identical to the March numbers.

Smart move: The wisdom of AT&T making a deal with Apple to be its exclusive U.S. iPhone partner becomes increasingly apparent with every survey. Almost half (48 percent) of the iPhone owners switched from another provider, a number that has risen steadily from 34 percent in the July 2007 survey.

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The influx of new customers has helped AT&T edge ahead of Verizon in overall market share (30 percent vs. 29 percent) and the iPhone 3G should help AT&T pad its lead.

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