VanAmberg said the color of a case is in the group of "features around the fringes" -- especially since buyers can already get add-on cases to add color.
"But a new case with a color, that's not the radical 'wow, here's something totally new' that's going to blow away the iPhone 4S," he added. "It's tweaking around the edges and is easy to do, but it's also very challenging, given customer expectations of how to reinvent a product and to capture everyone's imagination."
VanAmberg suspects that an iPhone C costing $99 and differentiated by lime and yellow cases is intended to appeal to young buyers who will be important to Apple for years to come.
He and other analysts consistently rate Apple at the top for its iPhone quality, but even Apple has taken a hit in the last year on customer satisfaction. ACSI's survey of thousands of U.S. customers have found a 2% decline in customer satisfaction for Apple iPhones over the past year, while satisfaction with Samsung's phone portfolio has increased 7%.
In its latest survey of more than 4,000 users, the Samsung Galaxy S III and Note II received higher customer satisfaction ratings than the iPhone 4, 4S or 5, ASCI found.
Notably, the difference in ASCI customer satisfaction ratings between any of the three iPhone models was small, while there was a sizeable jump in satisfaction from the Galaxy S II released in 2011 to the Galaxy S III released in 2012, VanAmberg noted.
"The Galaxy S III was perceived as having much higher quality than the S II, with more cool features and more of a wow factor," VanAmberg said. "When the iPhone 5 came along, Apple was not perceived with that to be a game changer in terms of innovation, as compare to the 4 and 4S."
Even for Samsung, innovation will be difficult. VanAmberg said the Galaxy S4 might not see a big jump in customer satisfaction in next year's ASCI ratings, given that reviewers have noted it's not that much different from the Galaxy S III. Some reviewers have dismissed the S4's Smart Scroll and Smart Pause eye tracking features and Air Gestures as added frills that don't always work well.
ASCI asked its survey group to rate 30 different factors in smartphones from 1 to 10. Customers were asked to rate factors including overall product quality, service, pricing, ease of use, battery life, navigation of menus, design features, audio and video and more.
VanAmberg freely admitted that customer satisfaction ratings are both objective and subjective. "Part of what customers say is objective, and there's also a perception of what a customer is supposed to feel about a phone based on what the manufacturer wants us to feel about a phone," he said.
Sign up for Computerworld eNewsletters.