TECH
11/06/2012 03:56 pm ET

iPhone User Loyalty Declines For The First Time Ever (But It's No Big Deal)

And now for your questionably accurate "Apple is in deep, deep trouble!" statistic of the day:

According to a report released on Oct. 25 by market research and consulting firm Strategy Analytics, the loyalty of Apple's iPhone users is on the decline for the first time since the iPhone's 2007 inception. A survey conducted by SA shows that "only" 88 percent of current iPhone users in America are likely to make an iPhone their next phone, down from a previous high of 93 percent in 2011. In Western Europe, the decline was even more pronounced, with 75 percent of iPhone owners saying they're likely to be repeat buyers, down from 2011's high of 88 percent.

In the report, Strategy Analytics blames a perceived lack of innovation at Apple and the (still ongoing) iOS 6 maps kerfuffle for the hit to loyalty and the relative inability of the Apple logo to continue to seduce smartphone buyers at the same rate in 2012.

Now, if Apple was losing or dissatisfying customers, it would be reason to panic, and many Google- and Microsoft-friendly (or anti-Apple) forces celebrated the release of the survey with Internet fireworks. Still, those retention rates look awfully high. Most smartphone manufacturers would do nasty things to achieve 88 percent (or 75 percent) customer retention. Indeed, an August poll by Barron's found that just 48 percent of Android users plan to re-up with another Android phone, while 2 percent (we're talking low-fat milk numbers) of BlackBerry users will stick with RIM next time around.

But it's not just the fact that even with the modest downtick, Apple customer loyalty remains comparatively sky-high. It's that, if our super-casual survey of New Yorkers has any merit, iPhone users still do remain gleefully attached to their phones, without any thoughts of the little green Droid dude dancing through their heads.

On a chilly day in lower Manhattan, none of the iPhone-toting New Yorkers I spoke with expressed any indication that they were enticed to switch over to another operating system for their next device. The top reason I heard for their devotion: ease-of-use.

"It's really easy," a young woman named Molly said when asked why she planned to upgrade to the next iPhone from an iPhone 4S. This from a girl whose iPhone display showed one of the most bodacious spider web cracks I've ever seen on a screen -- and her upgrade isn't until next summer.

I got the sense that it's not that other operating systems are difficult, necessarily. Rather, once you've learned a certain way of doing things that works for you, it is difficult to abandon that for the Great Unknown of Android or Windows Phone.

Even as Great Mass of White-Earbud-Sporting New Yorkers did not (anecdotally) appear ready to give up the iPhone and iOS experience, cell phone retailers in the area backed up their preferences. At a Best Buy Mobile kiosk, an associate told me that most iPhone trade-ins were those trading up to the iPhone, not over to another OS. I heard the same from a customer service rep at an AT&T store. At Radio Shack, meanwhile, which offers both prepaid devices and smartphones on contract, a sales associate seemed shocked at the idea that there was any sort of trend toward switching from the iPhone to another OS.

"Quite the opposite!" the associate said, while laughing. The associate said that at his store near Union Square, iPhones were out-selling all other devices combined. Most trade-ins, he said, were Android owners switching over to the iPhone -- not the other way around.

"I'm not saying the iPhone is a better phone," he explained, listing the reasons (rooting, more customizability) that one may opt for Android. "But an iPhone is an iPhone. It's got the Apple brand."

Now, New York City -- especially Manhattan, and especially the area of Manhattan just beneath Union Square -- is not emblematic or in any way representative of the United States as a whole (just check the state-by-state election results for evidence of that). What's cool here might not be cool in Peoria.

But from the people we talked to, at least, the alarm bell that many news outlets are violently clanging about the imminent decline of Apple and its most profitable product doesn't ring true (even as, yes, Android accounted for 75 percent of all smartphone sales in the last three months, perhaps mostly due to most Apple smartphone buyers waiting for the release of the iPhone 5.)

In other words: The iSky is not falling just yet. And even if it did, most current iPhone owners would still purchase another iPhone when their current AT&T contract expires two years after the apocalypse.

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