(Source: Bloomberg/AFP,
Samsung finally passes Apple, thanks to a strong year of growth in customer satisfaction; iPhone satisfaction is down 4% since 2012

The American Consumer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) -- a market research spinoff of the University of Michigan Ross School of Business -- has emerged as one of the leading independent customer satisfaction barometers in the U.S. market.  It has a strong reputation owing to integrity; it is careful to avoid the kind of payola, payouts, and personal bias that are sadly all too common in the world of consumer satisfaction rankings.

I. Apple Falls Again

Every year the ACSI conducts a study of smartphone satisfaction by OEM.  This year's results are sure to provoke some crowing from fans of Google Inc.'s (GOOG) Android operating system and some grumbling amongst fans of Apple, Inc.'s (AAPL) iPhone.

Traditionally the iPhone was the top in the satisfaction ranking.  Last year it reported that 81 percent of customers said they were satisfied with their iPhones, a drop from a high of 83 percent satisfaction in 2012.  This year's survey, though, saw Apple continue to slowly slip, reaching 79 percent satisfaction.

iPhone 6
The launch of the popular iPhone 6 and 6+ were unable to stop Apple's plummet in satisfaction rankings.  Apple was passed in the latest rankings by Samsung, losing its first place rank for the first time since at least 2012.

That slippage was enough to allow Samsung Electronics Comp., Ltd. (KRX:005930) (KRX:005935) -- the top smartphone seller by volume globally -- to pass Apple for the first time in customer satisfaction.  Samsung Electronics, whose smartphones almost exclusively use Google's Android OS, was at 74.4 percent last year -- well behind Apple.  But this year it jumped 6.6 percent to reach an 81 percent approval rating.

Samsung has struggled a bit on the sales front.  While the Galaxy S5 sold modestly, it yet again failed to reignite the explosive growth seen by early Galaxy smartphones.  And the Galaxy Alpha was an outright flop, selling so poorly that Samsung pulled the plug this week.

Smartphone satisfaction

Apple is still neck and neck with Samsung and it can celebrate a roughly 10 percent jump in market share with the release of the iPhone 6/6+, according to information from the Kantar World Panel.  That increase allowed it to cement its lead as the top OEM by volume in the U.S., the world's most valuable market.

II. Galaxy Note II and iPhone 5C Top Satisfaction Ranking

That said, Apple is no longer in a league of its own in terms of satisfaction.  The ACSI numbers are the latest sign that Samsung's brand -- long second-fiddle to Apple's -- is at last coming into its own, likely as the hard-fought fruit of its years of labor on the sales front.  Samsung's come a long way since 2004, when ACSI collected its first numbers.  Back then Samsung had only a 70 percent approval rating.

Samsung's ascent was perhaps foretold by last year's July 2013 survey, which saw the Galaxy S III and Note II smartphones beating out the iPhone 4, 4S, and 5 in satisfaction rankings.  (The Samsung Galaxy S III earned the highest marks.)
Smartphone satisfaction -- 2013
This year's phone model ranking, conducted in May, showed the Samsung Galaxy Note II phablet/smartphone continuing to beat the iPhone in satisfaction.  The year old Samsung device managed to top even the then-latest-and-greatest iPhone 5S.

Smartphone Satisfaction by model -- 2014
Interestingly, the Note II outperforms the Note 3 substantially in satisfaction (85 percent versus 81 percent).  Also interesting, is that while it has sold poorly at times, the iPhone 5C is the best-rated iPhone in terms of customer satisfaction (84 percent satisfaction).
Samsung Galaxy Note II
The Samsung Galaxy Note II may be two years old, but it has a higher customer satisfaction than any other device.

The Galaxy S4 and iPhone 5S were virtually tied, with 82 and 83 percent satisfaction ratings, respectively.

III. BlackBerry Also is a Big Winner for the Year

Samsung's patient rise gives hope to other OEMs that performed well in this year's rank, but weren't quite at the top.  The Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) owned Nokia Devices unit -- purchased from Finland's Nokia Oyj. (HEL:NOK1V) -- was tied for third place with 77 percent satisfaction (up 1 percent from last year's 76 percent).  Also in third was Google subsidiary Motorola (up 4 percent from 73 percent in 2013).  Motorola is now operating as a brand of China's Lenovo Group, Ltd. (HKG:0992).

Motorola vs. Nokia
Lenovo's Motorola (left) and Microsoft's Nokia Devices (right) were tied for third place.

HTC Corp. (TPE:2498) took the fifth place slot with a 75 percent satisfaction ranking (up 3 percent from last year's 72 percent).

Overall satisfaction rates among smartphone users was 78 percent (heavily weighted by Samsung and Apple's strong performance, as they make up nearly 4 in 5 sales in the U.S., roughly).

In sixth place, below that average, was BlackBerry, Ltd. (TSE:BB) with a 74 percent satisfaction rating.  In sixth place -- just behind BlackBerry -- was LG Electronics, Inc. (KRX:066570)(KRX:066575) who saw 73 percent satisfaction (up 2 percent from last year's total of 71 percent).

BlackBerry's John Chen
BlackBerry CEO John Chen shows off his company's BlackBerry Passport (left) and BlackBerry Classic (right) smartphones. [Image Source:]

Overall BlackBerry might actually be happy with this result, given how much the brand has been battered in recent years.

For 3 in 4 BlackBerry users to be happy with their devices suggests that BlackBerry's restructuring and attempt to get back to the brand's roots is seeing success.  Indeed last year BlackBerry only had a 69 percent satisfaction rating.  A year-on-year gain of 5 percent in satisfaction puts BlackBerry in a similar league as Samsung in reputation growth.

Source: ACSI [press release]

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