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Apple loses mojo with the young

(MoneyWatch) People prefer Google (GOOG), with a favorability rating of 83 percent, to Apple (AAPL), 72 percent, and Facebook (FB) at 60 percent, according to a new poll from the Washington Post and ABC News. But the real news is that Apple's standing with the 18-29 crowd has dropped significantly in the last year, an area where Google is particularly strong.

Taken with recent results from the American Customer Satisfaction index (ACSI), the data suggests that Apple is losing traction with an important demographic, even as Google and its Android platform continue to increase global market share in mobile. Apple, which has long understood the importance of younger customers, will need to pull something out of its hat to regain traction.

This is the second year that the poll has been conducted, and overall results for the two were statistically identical. Not only did Google have the highest favorability rating, but it had a greater degree of support. Google had 48 percent of respondents say that they "strongly approved" of the company, versus 33 percent for Apple and 25 percent for Facebook.

Where Google found its greatest strength was among younger consumers: In the 18 to 29 age range, the company's favorability rating was a commanding 94 percent, with 72 percent saying that they strongly approved. Apple had a 71 percent approval rating in the demographic, versus 81 percent last year, a drop greater than the study's margin of error and thus indicating a real shift. This year 40 percent strongly approved of Apple. Facebook had a 75 percent favorability rating in this group; 37 percent of participants approved strongly.

Apple has always used a focus on marketing to youth as a way to extend its long-term market share. It has used special educational pricing to seed the market so people would grow up with the brand and be more likely to push for it when adults.

This news comes on top of the most recent ACSI customer satisfaction results for cell phone vendors. The gap between it and other smartphone vendors has shrunk, suggesting that Apple has lost a "bit of its luster," according to the ACSI.

There is a question of what the results might actually mean. Are people thinking of Google as the maker of Android, or do they react to the company as primarily a provider of search services? The answer would change the possible interpretations.

Apple opens its Worldwide Developers Conference next week. This has often been a time for the company to announce significant product developments. A streaming radio service and wearable wrist device have been two possibilities mentioned. A sufficiently innovative product might help the company regain some of its "cool" -- and the interest of younger consumers.

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