Apple just scrapes past Amazon in JD Power’s tablet satisfaction survey

Apple’s iPad is once again ranked as the No. 1 tablet in the United States. However, the company’s lead over Amazon’s Kindle Fire is as razor-thin as its products. According to customer satisfaction researcher JD Power, Apple scored 848 points with Amazon close behind with 842 out of 1,000.

The Cupertino, Calif. firm can be thankful that US consumers found the iPad tops for performance and ease of use — categories heavily weighed in the survey — while Amazon hit it out of the ballpark in price, an area carrying just 16 percent of the final score…

The US tablet market appears to be mostly a decision of Apple or Amazon. All other players are trying to play catch-up, falling far below the two leaders — and even the industry average of 832, the tablet customer satisfaction survey found. Samsung is No. 4 with 827; Acer scored 811, Barnes & Noble’s Nook ranked 803, while HP was in the cellar at 790 points.

The poor results of everyone but Apple and Amazon seem to reinforce anecdotal evidence about how US consumers view tablets, compared to other devices. JD Power found that tablet dimensions are better suited to watching video, reading e-books or listening to music. There may have been good reason why Apple was pulled kicking and screaming into offering an iPad “mini,” after all. The tablet may soon pass the PC as America’s favorite device for content consumption. Tablet users spend 7.5 hours each week watching videos, reading or listening to tunes, just two hours less than the 9.6 hours for computers, the survey found.

Unlike smartphone owners, who can easily change their brand allegiance, tablet users tend to stick with the same manufacturer. While 37 percent of all of the survey respondents said they will buy a new tablet in the next year, among heavy video watchers (more than three hours), 90 percent said they would choose the same brand. Even if tablet users weren’t hooked on videos, 81 percent said they would buy the same brand. The lesson: Amazon should not expect to entice too many iPad users — and vice versa.

The survey also had some disquieting news for smartphone owners: US tablet owners tend to use their smartphones less. Indeed, among persons owning both a tablet and a smartphone, phone usage dropped by 40 percent. Smartphone usage dropped by 56 percent when the people were gamers.

But it’s not just consumers who are becoming hooked on tablets. The J.D. Power’s survey also found a quarter of US tablet owners are employing the devices for business.

In the end, if tablet makers hope to overcome the iPad’s lead, they must concentrate on more than price. Almost half of the J.D. Power’s satisfaction is devoted to performance and ease of operation, two areas Apple repeatedly dominates. Last week, J.D. Power named the iPhone the top smartphone, but noted pricing is becoming a larger factor in purchasing decisions. It is very uncertain whether price will play as large a role in tablets.

What do you think? Does the Kindle Fire HD improve the chances a non-iPad tablet can gain the No. 1 spot in US sales? Can other tablet makers, such as Samsung and HP, do anything to improve their standing in the eyes of consumers?