Apple's iPhone on Thursday again took the top ranking in J.D. Power and Associates' smartphone customer satisfaction survey, the company said.
Apple scored 855 out of a possible 1,000 points in the customer satisfaction survey, leading four closely-bunched rivals: Nokia (with 795), Samsung (793), Motorola (792) and HTC (790). Apple's score was slightly higher than in last September's survey, while its margin of victory was almost identical.
It was the ninth consecutive poll from the California marketing research company that put Apple in the top smartphone spot. "From an overall brand perspective, Apple remains solid across the board," said Kirk Parsons, J .D. Power's senior director of telecommunications services.
Following the news of the award, Apple send out an email to customers to boast about the achievement. This email follows an earlier 'Why iPhone' email reminding customers why iPhone is best.
Contrary to talk that Apple is being beaten by Samsung, the Korean electronics giant that's slated to ship its 5-in. Galaxy S4 next month, Apple's lead in customer satisfaction shows no sign of narrowing, Parsons said.
Last year, Apple beat HTC by 59 points; this year it topped Nokia by 60.
"HTC just hasn't kept up with the Joneses," noted Parsons, referring to the increase in satisfaction on the part of Nokia, which climbed 29 points in six months and Samsung, which gained 11 points since September 2012. HTC, which just announced it was delaying its new flagship, the One smartphone, was flat.
The latest industry average smartphone satisfaction rating was 796.
J.D. Power measured satisfaction by polling nearly 10,000 owners who have had their handset one year or less, weighting factors that included performance, physical design, features and ease of operation.
Apple scored well in all four, and unlike in 2011, when owners complained of short battery life and long charging times, the newer iPhone 4S and iPhone 5 got better grades from users.
"The battery problem has gone away somewhat," said Parsons. "It's not as much of a glaring weakness as it once was."
Across all smartphones, the performance category - which J.D. Power weights as 33% of the total score - improved the most. Parsons attributed the gains to better operating system reliability, faster processors and higher photo and video quality.
"The fact is, we're seeing satisfaction going up slowly over time for smartphones," said Parsons. "In almost every product category, satisfaction typically climbs until it levels off, or goes down. Smartphones haven't reached that plateau yet, but they will eventually."
To push that date further into the future, smartphone makers must continue to meet customer expectations. "Providing an easy-to-use, yet powerful operating system with the ability to customize applications to suit individual needs is essential to providing a high-quality and rewarding wireless experience," Parsons said.
J.D. Power does not disclose results of individual smartphone models, but instead rates brands. That gives Apple an advantage of sorts, Parsons acknowledged, since it makes and sells only the high-end iPhone. Other brands -- he singled out Samsung -- have a much larger portfolio that includes handsets at a broader price spectrum, with a corresponding wider range of features.
"Samsung tries to satisfy the entire marketplace," Parsons said. "But you will find some models that are competitive [with the iPhone] on an individual basis."
The latest poll was conducted between July and December 2012, a stretch during which Apple sold 2011's iPhone 4S and launched the newest model, the iPhone 5.
Other satisfaction surveys during that period also put Apple at the top of the list. ChangeWave Research's latest numbers, from polls conducted in November 2012, had iPhone satisfaction at 71% -- a combined percentage of those who said they were very or somewhat satisfied -- while those powered by Microsoft's Windows Phone OS came in second with 53%. Smartphones running Google's Android was third with 48%.
Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed. His email address is email@example.com.
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