Loyalty is Dead...for Smartphone Platforms

Nov 29 2010, 1:00pm CST | by , in Rumors | Technology News

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Loyalty is Dead...for Smartphone Platforms
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Too many choices = Fewer fanboys for each

Not everyone is fit to be a fanboy. It requires wild, often thoughtless dedication to a company that is unaware of your existence and a brand that cannot possibly love you back. Fanboys are willing to sacrifice cost efficiency, effectiveness and social ridicule in order to support their chosen products. When I write about fanboys, I'm not describing people who "really like Android" or "really like their Xbox". I'm talking about the sort of users who will ignore or violently lash out against any data or opinions that harm the reputation of their focal-whatever. There are a lot of fanboys in the world...but they are spread out over a wide variety of products, platforms and markets.

In the early days of the smartphone industry, most fanboys clustered around Apple or, later, Android. In 2006, Apple and Google had more loyal fans than they knew what to do with. In 2009, an astonishing 82% of iPhone customers planned to purchase it again. That is the kind of brand loyalty that builds empires. But it is also very fickle. That same year (on the wings of the first Droid) another survey showed that Motorola actually had higher brand loyalty in men aged 18 and up. This year saw Moto dethroned as the Android king, but they still have their share of fanboys.

Which might go a long way to explain some recent trends. More fan-worthy manufacturers and platforms means fewer crazy (and crazy-loyal) fans for each. Don't believe me? Check this. In March 2010 still put Apple as top of the smartphone list in terms of user-loyalty. But Samsung was #2, not BlackBerry. Palm also made it into the top seven, which just goes to show how powerful the fanboy bond can sometimes be. Another study from the same month said that Android and iOS users were equally loyal. Roughly 90% claimed that, if purchasing a new phone tomorrow, they'd make the same platform decision.

Now, fast forward to late November, 2010. Now, in other words. Windows Phone 7 has just hit the streets, webOS is ready for a resurgence and MeeGo is hoping desperately to claw their way into the market as well. Each of these platforms splits up the potential pool of crazy fans a little, and each manufacturer splits things up a little more. Which may be why the latest studies show smartphone users as being roughly as loyal as a band of drunken pirates. Only 59% of iPhone owners are loyal today. Android loyalty is down to just 28%, while BlackBerry loyalty hovers a hair above that with 35% loyalty. Overall, 56% of smartphone owners are "keeping their options open" when deciding which sort of phone to buy next.

This is bad news for smartphone makers, but good news for the human race. Fanboys are usually early adopters, which does help move the industry forward, but they are also too set in their ways to encourage real competition. Normal people want to buy the product that works well for their needs. They want a minimum of fuss, few glitches and good customer support. By complaining when these things are absent and moving their money to the products that work, disloyal customers play a crucial role in ensuring healthy competition. The dilution of fanboys may prove to be the best thing that has yet happened to the smartphone industry.

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