iPhone could turn technology world on its ear

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As of February, awareness of Apple Inc.'s iPhone device had spread to nearly 50 percent of U.S. consumers, with a significant chunk of those people expressing sincere interest in buying the device without having first seen one in person, a broad market survey has shown.

In order to determine just how strong the buzz around Apple's first mobile handset had grown, market research firm Harris Interactive in mid-February conducted a an online study with over 1,100 consumers from its multimillion member panel.

"Although iPhone is not yet a household word, 47 percent of respondents were aware of the product and a full 17 percent expressed interest in purchasing it, which makes for a pretty loud buzz from consumers for a product that isn't yet available," the firm said in reporting the results of the study on Thursday.

Perhaps one of the more interesting question asked of participants in the study was when they'd be willing to buy the Apple device. Of those expressing interest to purchase, 9 percent said they would buy the product during its initial launch and another 8 percent said they planned to pick one up before their current wireless service contract expired.

Another 17 percent claimed they would wait for their current wireless contract to expire before purchasing, which an additional 25 percent said would purchase it when their existing wireless carrier offers the iPhone. The remaining 40 percent or so said they'd be more comfortable purchasing the handset once its entry level $500 price tag came down.

Survey results showed the hottest iPhone feature was its large storage capacity with a 37 percent vote. That begs the question, said Harris, of whether the iPhone is better phone or simply a better iPod?

The next most desirable feature, according to the survey, was quad band worldwide capabilities with 36 percent vote. It was followed by the iPhone's "drop dead cool user interface" with 31 percent of the vote.

"Overall, high powered multi-functional mobile devices like the iPhone have strong appeal to about 31 percent of the marketplace," Harris wrote in its report. "The remainder does not need, or care to pay for, all those bells and whistles and seek simpler solutions."

The firm said it expects June to spur a "nice pop in iPhone sales" out of the gate and some additional subscribers lining up at AT&T/Cingular to switch their carrier and get their iPhone.

"Apple's new iPhone has shaken the industry to its core. Look for strong sales and a new cult to develop around iPhone," said Joseph Porus, Vice President of HarrisInteractive's Technology Practice. "Also expect increased orders for midnight oil as competitors scramble to play catch-up."