Will iPhone 5 bring the perfect storm?

ChangeWave Buying Intentions

It's a good question to ask now that ChangeWave claims that 46 percent of 4,163 consumers surveyed plan to buy iPhone within 90 days. Apple is expected to release iPhone 5 within that time period.

Earlier today, ChangeWave released the data, which reliability is somewhat skewed. "This survey focuses primarily on the North American smartphone market -- with the sample being 89 percent U.S. respondents and 11 percent outside the US", according to the analyst firm. Pardon my confusion, but when did the United States annex Canada and Mexico? Last I checked, North America wasn't synonymous with the United States. It's little details like this that in the past caused me to beat ChangeWave with its own data.

ChangeWave measures consumers' buying intentions, which gives a snapshot into broader trends but unlikely into future sales. For example, in March, ChangeWave's 90-day buying intention survey had 44 percent of consumers buying iPhone and 31 percent Android smartphones. But that's not what actually happened. According to Nielsen, which measured March to May, 49 percent of new smartphone acquirers chose an Android handset, but only 31 percent iPhone. What people say and what they eventually do often differ. At best, surveys of this kind represent what people would like to do.

So take the new survey for what you will. I already can predict that the Apple Fanclub of bloggers and journalists will declare another victory for iPhone over Androids, which only 32 percent of respondents plan to buy within 90 days, according to ChangeWave. I tend to look at what people do (Nielsen's findings) versus what they say they will (ChangeWave's).

By the way, ChangeWave's survey introduces another variable that creates uncertainty. The firm measures mobile operating systems, rather than devices. There's no guarantee all respondents really know Android from iOS or something else. Google has done a much better job branding its operating system -- hey, who couldn't recognize that cute droid mascot? Apple's numbers might even be higher if ChangeWave measured iPhone instead of iOS.

Still, that 46 percent number must mean something, especially in context of other data ChangeWave presents. In a measure of customer satisfaction, 70 percent are very satisfied with iOS and 50 percent with Android. But, get this, 57 percent are very satisfied with Windows Phone 7. Uh-oh, Google, watch your back. But wait: "Even so, the higher Windows Phone 7 rating has yet to produce a sustained momentum boost for Microsoft in term of buyer preferences". Maybe Windows Phone "Mango" will get that momentum going.

Measuring iCloud's Winds

ChangeWave, as it is wont to do, put a positive spin on a major negative finding. The firm smartly asked consumers about Apple's forthcoming iCloud and how that might affect intentions to buy other products. Twenty-nine percent of existing Apple product owners would be "more likely" to buy another one in the future, because of iCloud. Among non-Apple product owners: 13 percent.

"This initial look at the impact of Apple's new iCloud service shows it enhancing existing customer loyalty", ChangeWave claims. "But the survey also provides highly encouraging signs that iCloud will generate additional customer demand for other Apple products, not only from current Apple product owners but from a substantial numbers of non-owners as well". Oh? Since when is 13 percent a "substantial number". Please tell me what new-age Math ChangeWave used to make that assertion? More likely: Most respondents don't know what iCloud is.

ChangeWave was right to ask. With iCloud, Apple is majorly catchup with other cloud sync services -- and even transcending them; and iCloud benefits other Apple products, not just those running iOS. Synchronization is the killer app for the connected age, but perhaps Apple's implementation isn't killer enough or its benefits not understood well enough by survey respondents. Based on ChangeWave's findings, if there's a perfect storm coming, it won't be from iCloud.

That circles back to the question posed by this story's headline. Will iPhone 5 bring a perfect storm? If ChangeWave's data is believed, quite possibly yes. Apple's smartphone is hotly desired during a time when a new model is expected to ship, plumped with fresh operating system and shadowed by new cloud services. Mix that up with shockingly high customer satisfaction and it's the makings of something big.

But, of course, that's based on the North American, or is that just American, perspective. Android activations are now 550,000 a day, globally. What's iPhone's comparable rate? That's an answer Apple will likely give with fiscal third quarter 2011 results releasing tomorrow afternoon. Oh, and the winds there will help forecast whether there's a big storm coming or just a squall.

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