Report: Android Making Big Satisfaction and Purchase Intent Gains -- or Is It?

ChangeWave has been tracking smartphone demand and satisfaction for the past few years. Its latest survey, (n=4,000 US respondents) conducted in September, show a "surge in Android momentum among planned buyers." According to the data Android is catching up to the iPhone in terms of future purchase intent and satisfaction among buyers.

But something doesn't make sense in the data. I'll come back to that. First the charts:

Mobile Operating System Preferences – Future Smartphone Buyers

In June the iPhone was 20 points ahead of Android in terms of intent to purchase. Now the two operating systems are nearly dead even: 38% vs. 37%.  In terms of current owners' satisfaction, Android has surged. Compare September data with June data (based on OEM) below.

Cell Phone Satisfaction Rating by Mobile Operating System

One of the questions raised by these data is: what's happened in three months to boost Android like this? The contrast between the two charts immediately above offers one potential clue to the answer and leads to a discussion of why I mentioned the data don't entirely make sense. 

Note that the September satisfaction chart and the purchase intent chart at the top discuss "Android," while the June satisfaction chart discusses specific handset OEMs. I don't know this as a fact but I strongly suspect that Android as a brand remains vague or largely unknown to most US consumers.

Verizon has developed something of a brand around "Droid," after millions in traditional and online ad spending. However you rarely hear "Android" mentioned prominently, if at all, in other OEM ads for their handsets: the Samsung Galaxy S series for example. The screen and other hardware features are promoted. The brand is Samsung, not Google or Android. 

There are many competing new Android handsets out from OEMs, as well as lots of corresponding advertising. This onslaught of new handsets and their ads have helped to stimulate interest and purchase intent for Android-powered smartphones. But I would be very skeptical if that translated to Android demand per se. In other words, I suspect people want to buy the HTC Epic or EVO or the Samsung Fascinate, rather than an "Android phone."

The satisfaction data are similarly going to be directed toward specific handsets rather than Android as a category.

Interest in and purchase intent directed toward the iPhone have run their course for AT&T. That well for Apple has now run dry. Android and its stable of OEMs have been able to exploit that by narrowing the hardware (and to some degree software) gap between the iPhone and its rivals. Had the iPhone gone "wide" a year ago, we might not be seeing the same demand numbers above.

AT&T is reportedly also the exclusive carrier for the forthcoming Windows Phones, which will apparently be formally announced in two weeks (October 11) and on sale in early November. I can certainly understand AT&T's desire for a flashy new handset line as it anticipates the loss of iPhone exclusivity. However it might have made more strategic sense for Microsoft to "go wide" or, if not, strike an exclusive relationship with Verizon with whom it has an extensive mobile partnership.

Knowing nothing about what's behind the exclusive Windows Phone-AT&T relationship (or how long it lasts) I believe it's a mistake for Microsoft and may cost the new OS some momentum. AT&T users upgrading to smartphones will be asked to choose between the iPhone and Windows Phone. Unless the latter is fantastic it will probably mostly lose that competition.

Subscribers at other US carriers now have lots of very good Android choices, so they're unlikely to move to AT&T to get a Windows Phone -- just like they've stopped switching for the iPhone.