Bear Stearns study shows iPhone overcoming corporate barrier

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Although some executives still see the lack of explicit business e-mail support as an obstacle to buying the iPhone, a growing number of these users are sidestepping corporate demands and buying iPhones for their own use, Bear Stearns reports in a new survey.

Tracking a relatively small group of financial and technology leaders in the weeks following the iPhone launch, senior analyst Andrew Neff noted in his mid-August study that the lack of full support for traditional business-class e-mail is no longer as strong a deterrent to buying the Apple handset as it was in June or July.

While the absence of complete Microsoft Exchange support was still enough of a barrier to prevent 34 percent of non-iPhone users from buying the Apple device, the corporate issue was no longer the primary factor in their decision. More (41 percent) were either tied to their existing carrier or else had reservations about AT&T, according to Bear Stearns. And in what was labeled a positive new development, a small percentage of previous holdouts from July had bought the iPhone strictly for their own use, regardless of its ability to reach corporate e-mail that had kept them from buying in the past.

"We found several people who bought an iPhone as a 'personal device' for its other attributes," Neff said, referring to its iPod and personal e-mail services. "While we still view corporate e-mail as an important issue, this emerging trend could be a positive leading indicator as well."

Enthusiasm for the device also showed few signs of cooling, Neff added. Unsurprisingly, the initial surge of extremely content users had dropped after prolonged use, but a full 90 percent of customers were either "happy" (49 percent) or "very happy" (41 percent) with the iPhone roughly six weeks after its introduction. Less customers were inclined to return the phone at 5 percent, although the number of dissatisfied users had jumped to 10 percent.

Most had also come to accept the iPhone's controversial on-screen keyboard and calling ability, though again the number of extremely pleased customers had settled for both the keyboard (from 49 to 27 percent) and calls (from 90 to 33 percent).

Hardware defects weren't an issue, the study said. Complaints about battery life rose to 20 percent of owners, but significantly less users (33 percent) complained about the slow performance of AT&T's EDGE Internet serivce. The touchscreen dead spots reported by some users were absent in the survey sample, according to Neff. Only 5 percent reported issues that primarily related to freezing or lagging after touching a command.

The survey was too small to be completely representative of all executives or the population as a whole, the financial researchers warned, but the combination of a very positive overall reaction and the trend towards personal-use phones indicated to Bear Stearns that Apple was successfully building a third channel for growth beyond the iPod and the Mac.

"From a larger perspective, unlike a year ago when Apple's growth was primarily based on [the iPod], we believe that [the] Apple story has improved and can now benefit from multiple engines of growth," Neff wrote.

As a result, Bear Stearns continued to maintain an "outperform" rating for Apple's shares with a price target of $199.


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