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Apple has by far the highest level of customer satisfaction among computer-buying consumers, according to a recent study (PDF) conducted by ChangeWave Research.

The study, which focused "primarily on the U.S. market," interviewed 3,115 consumers between February 2 and 9. Among consumers who purchased a desktop or laptop in the past 90 days, 81 per cent of Mac buyers reported that they were "very satisfied" with their purchase. The manufacturer with the next-highest ranking, ASUS, achieved a 67 per cent "very satisfied" rating.

The news wasn't as good for Dell and HP, which scored 55 and 52 per cent, respectively. Lenovo ranked worst, with a mere 50 per cent of its recent purchasers calling themselves "very satisfied."

Satisfaction is, of course, a highly subjective concept. A consumer who regards a purchase as a reflection his or her own personal stylishness, hipness, or up-to-the-minute design savvy may be more apt to be satisfied with their choice than one who's merely buying a computing appliance.

And an argument can be made that a not-insignificant number of Apple iMac and MacBook purchasers may fall into that category.

Still, Apple's 81 per cent satisfaction rating tells a more-positive story than does Lenovo's dismal ranking. A company that can only satisfy half of its buyers needs to do some serious soul-searching.

In addition to its customer-satisfaction rankings, the study also looked at recent and planned personal-computer purchases. And here the news was not good for any manufacturer.

Planned personal-computer purchases by individuals - the study didn't survey business buyers - have shrunk to "the lowest level ever recorded in a ChangeWave survey." A mere four per cent of respondents said that they plan to purchase a desktop computer in the next 90 days. Six percent said that they plan to buy a laptop.

During the same period last year, those plan-to-buy numbers were eight and six per cent, respectively, and as recently as June 2007, they reached 12 and seven per cent.

Of those consumers who plan to buy laptops in the next 90 days, Apple is the preferred manufacturer: 30 percent said they plan to buy MacBooks or MacBook Pros, compared with 26 percent planning to buy a Dell and 22 per cent an HP.

Dell led among those who plan to buy a desktop, however, at 32 per cent - although that figure was down from an identical survey taken the month before, when Dell held a 34 per cent planned market share.

The study cited netbooks as being "one of the few beneficiaries of this tough spending environment." This category - one in which Apple has so far refused to play - saw a plan-to-buy growth of four per cent from January to February from 14 per cent to 18 per cent.

Apple may be leading in overall customer satisfaction, but it isn't satisfying its fans who are shopping for an affordable ultra-portable. ®

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