iOS, Android Loyalty Raises App Lock-In Hurdle for Others

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iPhone handset owners are the most satisfied with their phones, but Android users are more likely to stick with their platform on their next phone, according to a study released today by Zokem. The mobile analytics company surveyed 1,500 consumers in the U.S. to determine platform loyalty. Although the results aren’t surprising, they indicate future smartphone challengers will have to battle application lock-in from the current incumbents.

The Zokem study shows that iPhone has a vast lead over all others when it comes to platform loyalty; the “loyalty index” for iPhone, a figure between -100 and +100, is 73. Android’s loyalty index comes in at number two with a score of 40, followed by mobile platforms from Samsung, Research In Motion, Nokia, Microsoft and Palm.

The low loyalty score for Symbian S60 devices makes sense, because Zokem polled U.S. residents and few subsidized S60 handsets are sold here. After stagnating, Windows Mobile has been recently replaced by the brand-new Windows Phone 7 and Palm’s webOS has only seen a slightly revised new device in the past year in the Palm Pre 2. And RIM’s BlackBerry loyalty scores don’t surprise either; when the new BlackBerry OS 6 arrived, I said that it might appeal to current BlackBerry owners, but few new users, since iOS and Android devices have gained enterprise functionality.

What is surprising, at least to me, is that even though iPhone owners show the most loyalty, they’re not the group most likely to stick with their current platform. That distinction belongs to Google Android owners, 89 percent of which expect their new smartphone to run Android too. By comparison, 85 percent of iPhone owners surveyed expect to stick with Apple for their next phone.

This seems counterintuitive to me; if iPhone owners are more satisfied with their platform than Android owners, why are Android owners still planning to use Android on future phones? The only thought that comes to mind has less to do with the platform, and more to do with the apps. Google apps, such as Mail, Maps and Voice, for example, are either more fully featured or simply provide a better experience on Android devices. I’m sure there are other reasons, but that one stands out in particular as a growing number of consumers rely on Google services. Of course, in the U.S., some iPhone owners are less than satisfied with their network. Zokem’s survey took place before the recent Verizon iPhone news, so it’s possible that some iPhone owners were considering Android for a different network.

Whatever the reason, the bigger concern should be held by all of the other competing platforms. I’ve argued in the past that as consumers invest more in applications for a specific smartphone platform, the less likely they are to switch. That’s a potential hurdle to Microsoft’s new Windows Phone 7 devices, although they offer unique functionality such as Office Mobile and Xbox Live integration. Palm, Nokia and Research In Motion too will be challenged in the future because of app lock-in, unless they can each come up with some compelling reason for customers to buy their phones in the future. They may want to start by finding out how to boost satisfaction with their platforms, which ought to help increase product loyalty.

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