Feature phones, or so-called “dumb phones” get a bad rap here, what with every blog and consumer obsessed with having the latest and greatest iPhone or Nexus device. However, in the wide world that exists outside of tech bubble that is “First World,” dumb phones are the predominant and favored technology. Feature phones are also not quite as dumb anymore as you might think.
Feature phones still own an incredible 51% of the worldwide mobile phone market. While most manufacturers concentrate the majority of their development and marketing on smartphones, a few players such as Nokia have embraced the dumb phone and carved out a healthy market share for themselves. Even market leaders like Apple are flirting with creating lower-end devices to take advantage of this enormous customer segment. At half the overall world mobile phone market, feature phones are too big to be ignored.
Dumb phones are also getting smarter, surely smarter than your last dumb phone was. Nokia’s Asha 305 (pictured above) just won the Best Feature Phone from the 2013 World Mobile Congress. Looking at the Asha, it’s hard to tell at a glance that it’s not a new Windows or Android smart phone. And the improvements are more than just a touchscreen and icons – more and more of these devices can access the web and leverage app-like downloads to expand their native capabilities.
This smartness means they are being used not just for communication but also as platforms for mobile payments, , and most famously Facebook. The Facebook For Every Phone project allows customers who have purchased additional data plans for their feature phones to have close-to-smartphone experiences while they are using Facebook. This includes access to their images, updates, chat, and the rest of the online Facebook experience. The secret sauce for Facebook For Every Phone is that most of the processing is done on Facebook’s servers, in the cloud, and a with minimal stream of data that is teased out to these dumb phones, which tend to be on slower networks in their emerging home markets.
While not as sexy as an iPhone 6, feature phones are mighty attractive to those who are just fine grabbing market in unpopular sectors and serving the developing world. Obviously this market will eventually shrink away as the whole world migrates to smartphones, but that time has not yet come. Expanding into these “dumb” feature phones, while they still own a majority of the worldwide mobile market, is the smart play.
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