The basic phone or “dumb phone” is capable of making voice calls and text messaging. Feature phones are low end mobile phones and offer slightly more computing capabilities than “dumb phones”. Examples of feature phones include: Sony Erricson Elm,Samsung Monte, LG Mini and Puma Phones. It’s these feature phones and dumb phones that are more common amongst emerging countries than Smartphones which are more popular in mature and developed economies. Whilst most technology companies are catering for the Smartphone boom, what about the majority of the world’s population who still use feature phones? Is this a forgotten market?

PROPORTION OF THE POPULATION USING FEATURE PHONES

  • Argentina 40%
  • Brazil 78%
  • India 77%
  • Indonesia 70%
  • Kenya 88%
  • Malaysia 46%
  • Mexico 53%
  • Nigeria 89%
  • Russia 46%
  • South Africa 70%
  • Thailand 40%
  • Turkey 39 %

Source: BuzzCity (based on 300m click-throughs from mobile phone adverts)

Research published by the IDC shows that Quarter one of 2013 was the first time when Smartphone shipments surpassed that of featured phones. 216.2 million Smartphones were sold compared to 202.4 million feature phones.

But does this mean we can forget about feature or dumb phones for now? I don’t think so. Whilst it’s evident that buying behavior is changing amongst mobile users, there are still significant barriers in emerging markets which hinder the adoption of smartphones.

These include, the price of smartphones, data bundles and the unreliability of 3G coverage and WiFi access. Only about 21% of people living in developing countries have access to fixed broadband.

Whilst the sale of Smartphones could increase year on year, there are still majority of the world’s population who will continue to use feature phones until the barriers mentioned above are elevated. Constraints which might remain for the next few years.

Some companies have realized this and have adopted the idea that “you can teach an old phone new tricks”. Platforms have been created to allow users of feature phones, to also access and use Smartphone apps.

Facebook currently has approximately 100m new users since launching their app for “not-so-smart-phones”.

http://www.siliconbeat.com/2013/07/22/facebook-says-100-million-use-network-on-not-so-smart-phones/

Foursquare and Twitter have also released new apps designed to be accessible from feature phones with the aim of attracting new users and increasing company growth.

http://techcrunch.com/2013/07/09/foursquare-aims-for-feature-phones-with-new-app-for-nokia-s40-phones-and-preloading-deal/

http://news.cnet.com/8301-1023_3-57563966-93/twitter-goes-global-by-putting-its-service-on-feature-phones/

Mobile Banking is also one of the big success stories amongst developing countries and allows banked and unbanked customers to transact using feature phones. This has created a new revenue stream for banks.

Developers are creating on average about 800 new apps a day for Smartphones. Whilst this is a growing market, the feature phone is far from being forgotten – neither can it be ignored. With a user base of almost two thirds the world’s population, why are more companies not focusing on this market?

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  1. Rodney Louw

    Interesting article and statistics and maybe there’s an opportunity waiting to be exploited for developing more apps for feature phones !

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