By Philip Elmer-DeWitt
August 18, 2009

“Apple Still Shines” is the headline of the PC section of a report issued early Tuesday by the American Consumer Satisfaction Index.

Apple’s (AAPL) score actually dropped this year — from 85 to 84 on a scale of 100 — even as overall user satisfaction with personal computers rose a point to 75 after two straight years of decline.

But as the report notes,

“the decline has done little to hurt the large lead Apple has enjoyed for six straight years over the Windows-based manufacturers. Apple maintains a 12% lead over Dell, one of the largest gaps between first and second place for any industry.”

Yet it’s the manufacturers of Windows-based machines that are responsible for the improvement in PC satisfaction. Specifically:

  • Dell (DELL) was unchanged at 75
  • Gateway (Acer) rose 3% to 74.
  • HP (HPQ) inched up 1% to 74,
  • Compaq jumped 6% to create a three-way tie with HP and Gateway.

ACSI managing director David VanAmburg told Computerworld that the rise of cheap netbooks that run Microsoft’s (MSFT) Windows XP, not Vista, could explain the improvement in overall satisfaction.

“Vista had a lot to do with Windows PCs’ poor showing last year,” said VanAmburg. “The fact that a lot of the popular computers this year didn’t include Vista had an impact.”

Given that the poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 points, he added, the dip in Apple’s score could be statistical noise.

The ACSI is produced by University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business in partnership with the American Society for Quality (ASQ) and CFI Group. It surveys 200 U.S. companies and government agencies in 44 industries and issues quarterly reports with new measures for different sectors of the economy.

Below: Fifteen years of ACSI ratings for the PC industry.

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