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Study: half of iPhone users have added unofficial third party apps

An extensive study released Tuesday by Rubicon Consulting reveals that nearly one half of US iPhone users have taken measures to add applications to the handset on their own, while just a bit more than 10 percent say they've unlocked the device from AT&T's wireless network.

More specifically, the survey of 460 randomly-selected iPhone users last month found that nearly 50 percent have at one point added at least one application to the handset. Among those people who did add applications, the average person added 4.3 new programs, but only around 10 percent say they added 6 or more applications.

However, only 13 percent of those US iPhone owners say they've unlocked the device, suggesting that the upcoming release of iPhone software 2.0 and the official iPhone App Store will address the most controversial aspect of the handset facing US consumers since its release late last June.

A followup question on the most desired features appears to support that thesis, with more than 40 percent of respondents saying that want the ability to easily add third party applications. Better compatibility with Microsoft's Exchange e-mail server and a larger touchscreen were the second and third most requested features.

Overall, those responding to the survey were routinely satisfied the iPhone's music functions, touchscreen interface, general usability, performance, and email application. Battery life and wireless speed were not surprisingly the least satisfying aspects of the handset, with the Safari web browsing interface a somewhat distant third least satisfying.

iPhone survey


In fact, the study found that the ability to check and read email —not surf the web —is the most frequently used non-voice function on the iPhone, which about 72 percent of users surveyed do on their iPhone at least once a day. Still, 55 percent said they strongly agree that the handset has increased their mobile browsing, despite about 40 percent reporting that the mobile version of Safari has trouble displaying some websites they visit, most notably those using Adobe Flash.

iPhone survey


"Apple and Adobe are feuding in public over whether and how Flash can be made available on the iPhone. The dispute punishes users and is damaging to both companies," Rubicon analysts wrote in the summary of their survey findings. "Apple needs to continue improving the iPhone browser, and that means settling its dispute with Adobe."

iPhone survey


The study also examined whether the iPhone actually causes people to pay more for mobile data, or if the device is just switching heavy users of mobile data to a new device. Respondents to the survey confirmed the former, reporting that their average monthly mobile phone bill was $78 per month before the iPhone purchase, and $97 per month after the iPhone —an average increase of 24 percent, or $228 per year.

iPhone survey


Based on those findings, Rubicon estimates that AT&T is generating about $2 billion in incremental yearly service revenues from the first three million iPhones sold in the US, with that figure set to increase as more iPhones are purchased and activated. A good chunk of that revenue —or $1.64 billion —is presumed to come from the 1.41 million (or 47 percent of iPhone owners) who say they switched to AT&T from another carrier in order to use the Apple handset.

iPhone survey


In purchasing an iPhone, about 50 percent of users surveyed said they replaced a conventional mobile phone. Another 40 percent said they replaced a smart phone, with the remaining 10 percent saying they replaced nothing —suggesting either that the iPhone is their first phone, or that they carry it in addition to a second phone.

iPhone survey


Almost 24 percent of respondents said their iPhone replaced a Motorola Razr, while 13.9 percent said it replaced a Windows Mobile device, 13 percent a Blackberry device, 6.7 percent a Palm device, 4.1 percent a Sidekick device, and 3.9 percent a Symbian device.

iPhone survey


Rubicon also noted anecdotal reports which appear to indicate that some 33 percent of iPhone users also carry a second mobile phone for traditional voice calling, or for other functions the iPhone doesn't perform well. Among those toting another mobile phone, the Blackberry was the most popular, carried by almost one iPhone user in ten.

iPhone survey


The study also found that 75 percent of iPhone owners were existing Apple customers, most make more than average salaries, and half of are under age 30. It also showed that students are particularly heavy iPhone users, most consider themselves technologically sophisticated, and that approximately 60 percent feel their iPhone serves to displace some notebook functions.