Survey: iPhone 4 antenna hubbub more noise than signal

The iPhone 4 has certainly been the subject of much contention in the tech arena, but how about the average iPhone 4 owner? How do they feel about their purchase of Apple’s latest handset? Surprisingly good, actually, according to a new survey by research firm ChangeWave Research.

The company’s latest poll talked to 213 iPhone 4 owners about their likes and dislikes of the device, and at least a few of the results were surprising. ChangeWave conducted its poll between July 19 and 28 because it wanted to wait for the firestorm over the iPhone 4 antenna issues to die down a bit, said vice president of research Paul Carton.

Still, the antenna issue itself was a major part of the survey. When asked about their dislikes of the iPhone 4, 24 percent of respondents pointed to it. However, that only placed it at third on the list of overall dislikes, where it was topped by 27 percent who disliked having to use AT&T and 24 percent complaining about the coverage, speed, and quality of AT&T’s 3G network.

However, Carton cautioned that much of the focus on the iPhone 4’s antenna could be the result of the attention it had gotten in the media. “It would have been astonishing to us to ask about dislikes and not have the antenna issue appear in the grouping,” said Carton. “This is what happens when the issue becomes one of the biggest issues in tech for a few weeks.” But he added that he was actually surprised that the impact wasn’t bigger.

In addition, ChangeWave’s results showed that the antenna problems weren’t necessarily as prevalent as it had been made out to be. While one in five iPhone 4 owners reported that they had been affected by the antenna issue, only 7 percent described it as a very big problem. By contrast, 64 percent said that they hadn’t experienced any problem at all.

Furthermore, when ChangeWave surveyed users about the rate of dropped calls, iPhone 4 owners reported dropping fewer calls—5.2 percent—than iPhone 3GS owners surveyed after that device’s release last year; they reported a dropped call rate of 6.3 percent. ChangeWave’s Carton described the figure as “an interesting counterpoint” to much of the buzz around the antenna issue.

Since the survey was conducted just a few days after Steve Jobs held his July 16 press conference about the antenna issue, ChangeWave was also able to poll the reaction to Apple’s solution. A total of 73 percent deemed themselves either very or somewhat satisfied with the company’s response, with 18 percent saying they were very or somewhat unsatisfied.

Among the particular likes and dislikes, the iPhone 4’s Retina display got the most love, with 49 percent of respondents giving it a thumbs up. Just 15 percent of those polled picked FaceTime, though Carton acknowledged that the survey’s sample didn’t include teenagers or young people. “My gut tells me that if we had a larger percentage of young people in this particular survey sample, we probably would have seen [FaceTime] higher than it is.”

The iPhone 4’s battery life also got a bump over its predecessor: last year, 41 percent of iPhone 3GS owners said that the battery life was too short, which put it at the top of the dislike list. By comparison, the battery life on the iPhone 4 nabbed complaints from just 15 percent of iPhone 4 owners, dropping it to fifth.

Overall, though the iPhone 4 didn’t reach the stratospheric levels that the iPhone 3GS achieved after its release—the previous handset yielded a 99 percent overall satisfaction—the iPhone 4 still did very well, with 72 percent of those polled describing themselves as very satisfied and 21 percent as somewhat satisfied. Just 3 percent said they were somewhat unsatisfied, and another 3 percent said they were very unsatisfied.

The same was true of meeting owners’ expectations: 34 percent of iPhone 4 owners said that the device exceeded their expectation, compared to 38 percent of iPhone 3GS owners surveyed last year at around the same time. In addition, 50 percent of iPhone 4 owners said that their expectations were met, compared to 56 percent of 3GS owners, and 13 percent were disappointed, compared to 6 percent of 3GS owners.

In the end, ChangeWave doesn’t see the antenna issue having a long-term impact on the iPhone 4’s success. “Despite the bumpy release,” said Carton, “the iPhone 4 is outperforming almost every other smartphone in the industry in terms of overall customer satisfaction.” It was an accomplishment, he said, that the ratings remained this high after the whole antenna ordeal.

Ultimately, he added, the iPhone 4’s customer satisfaction could actually pass that of the iPhone 3GS as the antenna furor dies down over time.

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