Survey: iPhone More Reliable But Accident-Prone

Apple’s iPhone is proving more reliable than the BlackBerry or Palm Treo — though it is the most prone to accidents, according to a new study that examined accident rates and dependability among the three smartphones.

iPhone users reported a malfunction rate of just 5.6 percent during their first year of ownership, compared to 16.2 percent of Palm (NASDAQ: PALM) Treo owners and 11.9 percent of BlackBerry users, according to the study from SquareTrade
(available here in PDF format).

While the survey found their devices may be more reliable, Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) iPhone users experienced a higher-than-average level of accidentally damaging their devices. Incidents like floor drops or water dunkings were 33 percent higher among iPhone users, with about 12 percent of the device’s users reporting having accidentally damaged their devices. Combined, BlackBerry and Treo users reported similar mishaps only 9 percent of the time.

So what’s to blame for the iPhone’s greater likelihood for mishaps to strike? iPhone’s much-lauded form factor is cited in the study as the main culprit, thanks to its its slippery surface and unique dimensions that make for a difficult grip.

“The iPhone is more fragile, though its internal mechanisms are solid. It’s just a slippery smartphone to hold on to,” Vince Tseng, vice president of market at SquareTrade, told

The findings come at a time when consumers continue to lay out big bucks for Web-friendly and application-heavy devices that provide much of the functionality found in laptops. Handset makers are pushing out new software and functions on every new device to lure users and gain market traction, while carriers are wagering that having the latest and greatest smartphones will attract new subscribers.

The smartphone survey analyzed data on 15,000 new smartphones, including 6,678 BlackBerries, 5,651 Treos and 4,902 original iPhones (not the current 3G version). SquareTrade, an electronic device warranty provider, annually collects data on problems and the survey is the first time it’s gone public with some results.

“We felt consumers can use this knowledge today as smartphones are getting more sophisticated and more popular,” Tseng said.

Likelihood for problems

Despite their profile, even the popular devices suffer from a number of glitches. The SquareTrade survey found that users reported problems ranging from software hiccups to camera snafus, voice calling issues, touchpad and keypad foul-ups as well as power and battery failure.

“Today’s handsets are so complex, there is just plenty of opportunity for something to go wrong,” Tseng said.

The top glitch with the iPhone is tied to its touchscreen — widely credited with sparking a surge of popularity in the feature among device manufacturers. The survey attributed nearly a third of the smartphone’s 5.6 percent malfunction rate to its touchscreen.

While Apple is often chided in public for the fact that its battery isn’t removable or replaceable by users, battery problems were reported by less than 0.2 percent of the survey’s respondents. About 1 percent of both BlackBerry and Treo users reported battery problems.

The top issue dogging Treo devices are touchpad and keypad glitches, with more than 3 percent of users reporting a pad problem in the first year of use. Next came software problems, with 3 percent, and poor call quality, cited by 2.8 percent of users. The Treo also ranked highest in power issues — problems like unexpected shutdowns — with about 2.2 percent of users reporting such problems.

While the survey found that Research in Motion’s (NASDAQ: RIMM) BlackBerry experienced few Bluetooth and device accessory problems — representing less than 0.5 percent of complaints about the device — about 2.5 percent reported touchscreen and keypad problems, while 2 percent reported call quality issues.

While it didn’t rank as highly as Treo in power issues, about 1.6 percent of BlackBerry users reported similar problems. An additional 1.7 percent reported problems with software and other phone features.

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