smartphone reportBattery performance is becoming an increasingly critical issue for smartphone and mobile device manufacturers and the broader industry as use of increasingly power-intensive services and features increases, according to new research results from J.D. Power and Associates. Battery performance– battery life in particularly– significantly impacts customer satisfaction with smartphones and is their “least satisfying aspect,” according to J.D. Power’s “2012 Wireless Smartphone Customer Satisfaction Study–Vol. 1.

Latest results from J.D. Power’s initial 2012 report show that customer satisfaction with battery performance “is one of only a few attributes that have declined significantly” as compared to Vol. 2 of its 2011 survey, dropping from an index rating of 6.9 to 6.7 on a ten-point scale.

4G smartphone performance ratings for battery performance fell to 6.1, much lower than the 6.7 score for 3G smartphone customer satisfaction with battery performance. “Part of this difference stems from the fact that new 4G smartphones use substantial battery life searching for next-generation network signals, which tend to be scarcer than 3G signals,” according to J.D. Power’s analysis.

“In addition, owners of 4G-enabled smartphones use their device more extensively–they talk, text, email, and surf the Web more often than do customers with 3G smartphones or traditional handsets–which puts a significantly higher demand on the battery.

“Both carriers and manufacturers recognize the fact that battery life needs to be improved,” commented Kirk Parsons, senior director of wireless services at J.D. Power and Associates. “However, the study uncovers the need for a greater sense of urgency–short battery life can result in perceived phone problems, higher rates of merchandise returns and customer defections.”

Customers who are highly satisfied with battery performance of their smartphones are more likely to buy the same brand of smartphone again compared with those who are less satisfied, J.D. Power found. Some 25% of 4G smartphone owners are “highly satisfied” (10 of 10 index points) with their handsets and said they “definitely will” repurchase a device from the same manufacturer. That compares with 13% of owners who were less satisfied.

J.D. Power’s studies measure customer satisfaction with mobile handsets among customers who have owned them for less than one year along several key attributes. For traditional mobile phones, these attributes include performance (31%), ease of operation (24%), physical design (24%), and features (20%). For smartphones, customer satisfaction is assessed by performance (35%), ease of operation (24%), features (21%), and physical design (20%).

Apple ranked highest among smartphone manufacturers in terms of customer satisfaction for the seventh consecutive time, scoring 839 on a 1,000-point scale and performing well across all attributes, particularly ease of operation and features. Taiwan’s HTC (798) ranked second, while LG and Sanyo (716 each) ranked highest among traditional mobile handset manufacturers.

The report’s key findings related to wireless handset usage patterns include:

  • The price of a traditional wireless mobile phone continues to decline and averaged $66 between July and December 2011, compared with an average of $81 during the same time period in 2010. The decline is primarily due to discounts provided by handset providers and wireless service carriers to incentivize sales. Currently, 44 percent of owners report having received a free mobile phone when subscribing to a wireless service.
  • Mobile applications continue to enhance the smartphone user experience. Seventy percent of smartphone owners say they have accessed social networking sites using their device. Nearly three in four (72%) say they have the ability to download and/or view video and movies, while 59 percent indicate having voice recognition and/or command dialing applications. This indicates that smartphone owners are continuing to integrate their device usage into both their business and personal lives.
  • Two in 10 current smartphone owners report experiencing a software or device malfunction (21%). These problems have an impact on overall satisfaction, as there is a satisfaction gap of 77 points between customers who experience software malfunctions and those who do not. Satisfaction among customers who indicate their device’s software crashes at least once a week averages only 691.