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J.D. Power: Consumers most dissatisfied with smartphone battery life

canon-s95-battery-symbolJ.D. Power and Associates has found that poor battery life contributes to customer dissatisfaction more than any other single smartphone feature — a discovery that will surprise exactly no one. The consumer satisfaction research firm polled 7,080 first-time smartphone users, and released the findings today in its 2012 US Wireless Smartphone Customer Satisfaction Study.

Among other notable epiphanies: Design is actually the least important aspect of a smartphone to most users, with only 20 percent of consumers rating it a key measure of satisfaction. Further, Apple was ranked highest for overall smartphone satisfaction for the 7th consecutive time, meaning that although style and design certainly play an important role in the iPhone’s continued success, these are clearly not the most important contributors to happiness once users own that device. HTC, the popular maker of Android-powered handsets, came in a fairly close second, with a score of 798 to Apple’s 839.

4G is draining users

Users found battery life worse for next-generation 4G smartphones than 3G devices, likely due to wireless carrier’s relative dearth of 4G airwaves: When smartphone antennas constantly switch between 4G and 3G in search of signal, batteries tend to suffer disproportionately. As 4G service becomes more widespread (Verizon is planning on doubling its LTE coverage by the end of 2012), this issue will be somewhat alleviated.

But phone makers should ignore these results at their own peril: Among the 25 percent of 4G users who are highly satisfied with their device battery life, nearly all report that they “definitely will” repurchase a phone from that manufacturer in the future, according to the study. Among those unsatisfied with battery drain, however, only 13 percent will buy again from that smartphone manufacturer  — an extremely large discrepancy that paints a clear picture of how important battery life is to most users, and especially to brand loyalty.

“Both carriers and manufacturers recognize the fact that battery life needs to be improved,” said Kirk Parsons, senior director of wireless services at J.D. Power and Associates, in a statement. “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.”

Satisfaction ratings

BlackBerry, the beleaguered stalwart of the smartphone industry, now rates 6th among customer satisfaction, below Samsung and Motorola, and well below the industry average. In an ironic twist, a BlackBerry insider had told BGR in 2011 that then-CEO Mike Lazaridis was overheard around RIM’s Waterloo HQ stating “people won’t buy an iPhone because it doesn’t have a battery as good as a BlackBerry.” A complete overhaul of BlackBerry’s mobile OS, deemed BlackBerry 10, is expected to be released later this year, along with a redesigned stable of touchscreen smartphones.

In the most surprising turn however, Palm, the bankrupted smartphone maker that sold its mobile WebOS system to HP — which in turn swiftly mismanaged that promising OS into oblivion — actually ranked just 5 points behind Nokia in customer satisfaction. That is bound to change, however, as Nokia begins rolling out the first of many Windows Phone based devices, following the announcement that Microsoft has partnered with the Finnish phonemaker.

The takeaway from this study is that battery life is likely much more important to users than device makers give credence to, especially those first-time smartphone buyers transitioning from traditional cell phones and used to relying on a single charge for days. Although new technologies are in development to reverse this disappointing trend — Northwestern University recently discovered a technique that allows battery makers to squeeze more ions into each cell, exponentially increasing the amount of energy stored — a true upgrade to the lithium ion tech found in most devices is still likely years away, if not decades. Although companies such as Apple have gotten ever-more creative with ways to increase time away from the outlet, squeezing custom-made cells into the empty space between components in its iPhone, the downside is that those battery packs are no longer user replaceable. It would appear that we are fast approaching a time when the power of our mobile devices outstrips their hunger for power. Do you find your smartphone battery drains faster than you hoped it would, or do you not mind plugging it in? Let us know in the comments. 

Image Credit: Photoman