iPhone users seem to be happy with their devices.

A recent study by ACSI reveals that Apple customers in the US are the most satisfied, breaking a tie with Samsung in 2020. Apple’s customer satisfaction rating rose one percentage point to 82, while its key competitor stayed at 81. Both manufacturers rank slightly higher than industry average, which improved to 80 this year.

Here are a couple other interest findings from the survey:

  • There is still a huge gap in customer satisfaction between the top three producers (Apple, Samsung and LG) and the rest of the pack. The Big Three’s ratings were at or above 79, while Lenovo’s dropped to 77 and all others combined were rated 75.
  • Of the top 15 models, all of them are Apple or Samsung devices. The LG phone with the best customer satisfaction score is the Stylo 5, ranked 18. No other brand shows within the top 25.
  • Customers appreciate their phone’s ease of text messaging and phone calling the most. Battery life ranks the lowest in satisfaction, but the trend has been improving.

Samsung’s top models “wow” the most

Although Apple’s products ranked higher than Samsung’s in general, the split across the different models caught my attention. Check out this graph:

Customer satisfaction ratings by smartphone maker, Apple vs. Samsung

Customer satisfaction index by rating group, Apple vs. Samsung

Of all models ranked the highest (83 to 85), five were Samsung and only three were Apple. The Korean vendor seems to be most appreciated for its high-end models. The crème de la crème devices tend to have larger screen sizes and better performance, as is the case of the Galaxy S10 and the iPhone XS Max.

But go down one step to the 80-to-82 range, and Apple dominates. Seven of the nine devices in this group are made by the Cupertino company, including the iPhone 11, 11 Pro Max and even the older 7 Plus. Samsung regains the lead in the less desirable 75-to-79 group.

These numbers seem consistent with the idea that “hard-core” smartphone users tend to prefer Samsung devices for their (alleged) better features and performance. For the average consumer, Apple’s products are “great enough”, and the devices hardly ever disappoint.

My take: diminishing returns

ACSI also points out that, over the past 15 years, the whole industry has improved customer satisfaction by 16%. This makes sense to me, since the smartphone revolution of 2007-2009 brought the mobile device industry to a whole new level.

But over the past four years, the score has plateaued around the 79 to 80 range. Cellular telephones are now highly ranked among products and services that customers appreciate the most. It is hard to imagine the phone industry climbing much farther.

My thesis is that new features, faster processing and improved quality may be par for the course at this point. Everyone expects Apple and Samsung to impress. But being the best phone maker by a narrow margin may no longer prove to be a competitive advantage.