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An “explosive wave” of momentum is catapulting Samsung to an all-time high in the North American smart phone market. But iPhones are still more popular.

A new survey from 451 Research's ChangeWave service finds that half of all North American respondents planning to buy a smart phone in the next 90 days say they’ll get an Apple iPhone. While that’s down from 71% in last quarter’s survey – conducted just as the iPhone 5 was being released – historically speaking it’s a solid showing for Apple.

At the same time, the percentage planning to buy a Samsung smart phone in the next 90 days has soared from 13% to 21% – an unprecedented 8 point gain.

"Consumer buying intent for Samsung smart phones has been extraordinary to start the year,” said 451 Research's Paul Carton. “Considering the Galaxy S III has been out for several months we'd normally expect a slowdown by now – but it’s still red hot. We’re also seeing strong interest in Samsung’s large-screen phone – the Galaxy Note II. Super-sized smart phones are taking the industry by storm in 2013.”

The December survey of 4,061 primarily North American respondents also looked at mobile operating systems. In a surprise finding, users of Microsoft's Windows Phone OS are reporting higher customer satisfaction levels than users of Android mobile OS – a clear sign of strong user satisfaction with Windows Phone 8.

A year ago, ChangeWave smart phone surveys forecast Samsung and Apple would outperform the rest of the market for 2012. The latest ChangeWave survey shows their momentum continuing in 2013 – to the detriment of other manufacturers.

“What accounts for Samsung’s North American surge? A major clue is found in the breakout of Samsung models that consumers plan on buying in the next 90 days. While the Galaxy S III (69%) is still the most popular by a wide margin, it’s the Galaxy Note II (23%) – Samsung’s super-large screen “Phablet” – that’s the biggest surprise here,´ said 4 Carton.

“The impressive demand for the Galaxy Note II suggests the era of large-screen smart phones is upon us.  Importantly, when all planned buyers were asked their screen size preference, more than one-in-four (27%) said they’re most interested in a 5-inch or larger screen.

Carlton said historical forces underlie the increasing consumer interest in large-screen smart phones. One example is the increased reliance on data and data-driven tasks by smart phone owners is slowly but surely superseding the former reliance on voice. “So with Samsung leaping ahead in the large-screen smart phone space, does this represent a long-term competitive threat to Apple?

“Not likely. With this level of consumer interest, Apple is perfectly capable of producing a large-screen smart phone that’s virtually a tiny tablet – they could call it an 'iTab' – and have it on the shelves for the next holiday season.”

The ChangeWave survey results also show a potential breakthrough for the Microsoft Windows Phone 8 operating system. “We looked at operating system customer satisfaction based upon the OS consumers have on their smart phones. As in previous surveys, Apple is the clear leader here – with 71% of iOS users saying they are very satisfied with their phone.

“But the big surprise is that users of Microsoft's Windows Phone operating system (53%) now rank it higher in terms of customer satisfaction than do users of the Android mobile operating system (48%) – a clear sign of strong user satisfaction with Windows Phone 8.”

Nokia is the biggest beneficiary of the higher Windows Phone satisfaction levels to date. The Finnish manufacturer's very satisfied rating jumped to 56% this quarter, putting it in a dead heat with Samsung (55%) for second place – though both remain well behind Apple (70%), the industry leader.

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Graeme Philipson

Graeme Philipson is senior associate editor at iTWire and editor of sister publication CommsWire. He is also founder and Research Director of Connection Research, a market research and analysis firm specialising in the convergence of sustainable, digital and environmental technologies. He has been in the high tech industry for more than 30 years, most of that time as a market researcher, analyst and journalist. He was founding editor of MIS magazine, and is a former editor of Computerworld Australia. He was a research director for Gartner Asia Pacific and research manager for the Yankee Group Australia. He was a long time IT columnist in The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald, and is a recipient of the Kester Award for lifetime achievement in IT journalism.

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