Amid iPhone hype, fewer ready to buy, but more ready to pay

From what I hear, the iPhone is big news these days. I wouldn’t know. In a case of exceptionally poor timing, I scheduled my vacation for mid-June and have traded iPhone hype for breath-taking scenery and limited media access. I’m sure this would be fun for some. I’m in media withdrawal. So I’m back on the grid, eager to check out the results of Compete’s recent iPhone survey.

We found that 1.2% of respondents reported they were both likely to buy an iPhone and pay over $500 for it"”a substantial increase from the first time we asked (five months ago, when the device was announced and 0.3% of respondents fell into this category). While a smaller percentage of respondents said they were likely to buy the device than five months ago, this decline was more than offset by an increase in the number of shoppers willing to spend over $500 on the device.

Just after the initial announcement of the iPhone in January Compete surveyed 379 people about the device. The survey targeted respondents who had been observed researching an iPod online in the preceding month. In the first week of June, Compete surveyed an additional 680 iPod researchers to look at attitudes toward the iPhone just before its launch. Compete targeted recent iPod shoppers in both surveys in order to keep the results comparable and to target consumers who were more likely to be aware and informed about the iPhone.

The most significant change among respondents: the percentage of shoppers reporting they were "very likely" or "extremely likely" to purchase an iPhone shrank from 26% to 15% between January and the first week of June. As shoppers have become more aware of the device’s price and exact feature set, it is not surprising that the unrealistic expectations of five months ago have been replaced by a more realistic assessment of the iPhone’s actual features and price.

Even though a larger share of shoppers report they now are willing to pay the iPhone’s steep price, they still remain the minority. Among even those who said they are likely to buy an iPhone, only 8% were willing to spend over $500 on it. That said, the percentage is still 8x more than a similar segment was willing to pay in January.

For those interested in the iPhone, switching carriers is not a major impediment. A quarter of the people interested in the iPhone (who are not already AT&T Mobility customers) said they were very likely to switch carriers to get their hands on the phone. Sixty percent of those very likely to buy an iPhone said they would switch, which is consistent with the 59% of the same segment who said back in January that they would switch carriers for the iPhone.

The primary reasons for not switching also remained the same: consumers do not want to pay early termination fees, the price of the iPhone is too high, and, despite wanting the iPhone, most admit that their current carrier’s handset line-up adequately suits their needs. The danger for AT&T’s competitors is that when their customers’ contracts lapse and the price of the iPhone drops, two of the major switching barriers will be removed.

When it comes to the iPhone itself, respondents primarily care about whether or not it will work as a high-quality phone. Surpassing issues of design and music integration, consumers said the top criteria in their decision to purchase an iPhone were price, phone performance, battery life and ease of use. These are consistent with the top criteria consumers use to evaluate any phone. "Overall design and look of the device" scored much lower than usual as an area of concern, presumably because consumers are already confident in the iPhone’s design and have shifted their concerns to other aspects of its functionality.

And even though issues about the touchscreen have gotten a lot of ink lately, the concern didn’t make the top three. Only 16% of respondents said they were concerned about the difficulty of texting using a touchscreen compared to 25% who were worried about the phone functionality not being as well developed as the music functionality.

On the other hand, consumers did express worry about the device’s data connection speeds. Given the difficulty of representing data connection speeds to general consumers, Compete asked, "If Internet browsing speed on the iPhone was closer to a dial-up modem than to a cable/broadband modem what impact would this have on your decision to purchase the iPhone?" Fifty-eight percent of those who said they were likely to buy an iPhone reported that this information would make them less likely to purchase an iPhone.

AT&T will have to carefully set consumers’ expectations about when and where the device will be able to surf the Internet at broadband speeds (and where consumers will have to pay data charges). This opens up an opportunity for the other service providers to talk about their networks and potentially challenge the iPhone.

Overall, the iPhone must work as a phone before it can expand its market beyond diehards. In the meantime, other manufacturers have an opportunity to leverage their capabilities and reputations as makers of great phones to deliver better products at affordable prices. It’s worth remembering that for most consumers, a phone is just a phone and will stay that way for quite a while. In Compete’s survey, 55% of respondents said they would still rather carry separate devices for their music and phone calls.

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