Even as senators gripe about Apple's elaborate scheme to avoid paying taxes here on its overseas income, the company is taking another public hit this week courtesy of the American Consumer Satisfaction Index.
No Boost from iPhone 5
The annual survey of 70,000 consumers, which measures their opinions about 230 companies, 43 industries and 10 economic sectors, found that Apple dipped slightly in its most profitable market, smartphones, down two percentage points from 83 percent last year to 81 percent. That's despite introducing its most radically improved iPhone ever last year, with a larger screen, faster processors and 4G long-term evolution high-speed data.
The company's biggest rival, Samsung, however, saw the biggest jump in consumer nods, from 71 percent to 76 percent, while Motorola Mobility got a vote of confidence since its acquisition by Google, rising from 73 percent to 77 percent.
Among other major platforms, BlackBerry, formerly Research In Motion, stayed the same in satisfaction at 69 percent approval.
Overall satisfaction with cellular telephones among Americans rose slightly, just 2.7 percent, despite the wide range of faster, bigger and more capable devices flooding into the market.
"Despite slipping two percent, Apple stays ahead of all competition," says the report. "While the iPhone 5 had strong sales, it has not bolstered Apple's overall customer satisfaction." The company did far better with its computers and tablets, which won an 86 percent satisfaction rating last year, the report noted.
Meanwhile, South Korean technology giant Samsung did see a sharp rise in overall satisfaction from the release of its flagship Galaxy S III smartphone, released last year (the Galaxy S IV is rolling out now.) The S III boosted the company's ACSI score by the largest margin of any cell phone manufacturer and even with the industry average.
"Customers still love Apple best, but Apple needs to be worried about slipping and competitors gaining ground," said technology analyst Jeff Kagan. "That is always a threat, especially as new competitors keep gaining ground and less expensive gear hits the market."
New Armor Needed
Still, Kagan said the standings are nothing new for the honchos in Cupertino, Apple's home base. "Apple has always had to keep their eyes open all around them. What is new is their armor is getting chinks and competitors are gaining ground," he said.
"If Apple wants to stay at No. 1 in this survey they had better introduce new iPhones, new iPads and introduce a brand new category. Remember, Apple was a much smaller company until the late 1990s. Then they had a string of hits. What is next is the question."
Americans seem to be pretty happy campers when it comes to using their devices, giving ease of making and receiving calls an 84 rating and texting an 83.
Satisfaction trailed off, however, when it came to other features. Accessing Web sites got a 77 percent rating, while the operating systems and software got a 78 percent rating. Battery life, perhaps the biggest gripe of consumers, got the lowest rating in the survey, 72 percent.