A large number of people are still regularly using feature phones, despite the enormous advances in technology that the mobile world has seen in recent years. In a world where devices such as the HTC One and Samsung Galaxy S4 are available, many people are still tapping out messages and making calls on old Nokia and Sony Ericsson handsets.
A Dialaphone poll has revealed that while a large number of our readers are now using smartphones, that group is only just in the majority and there are many people who still use feature phones in one way or another. Just over half of the people who responded to our survey said that they never use a feature phone, a figure which surprised us.
However, these results do reflect the sales trends that we have been hearing from the mobile phone industry recently, with sales of smartphones having only just overtaken those of feature phones. It was only in the first quarter of 2013 that more smartphones were sold worldwide, with the number of feature phones having been shipped sitting in the region of 200 million.
So what is a feature phone? Well, there is no clear, exact distinction between smartphones and their lesser-specced cousins which does make the explanation a little difficult. However, the general wisdom seems to be that feature phones are those that are not capable of running third party applications created by firms other than the handset’s makers.
It is the advent of these third party apps, and devices tailored towards running them, that has led to the era of the smartphone, and feature phones are often thought of as those that follow older design trends. Some feature phones, such as Nokia’s Asha series, blur the line between the two categories by having user interfaces that very much mimic those of smartphones, but it takes access to a fully-fledged app ecosystem for a handset to really count as ‘smart’.
While there are clearly many people still using older devices, it may not be the case that these are their main handsets. Some employers still give feature phones to their staff and the fact that these handsets do not have all the aspects of high-end smartphones can be a bonus in these circumstances. The lack of a camera and apps, which could distract staff or even make the device vulnerable to cyber attacks, could be attractive to many companies.
Another possibility is that some people hang on to an older handset as a spare for when they need to take advantage of the one thing that feature phones undeniably have over smartphones – its battery life.
Feature phones are not an uncommon sight at music festivals, where visitors can sometimes be away from a reliable charging point for several days at a time. No Galaxy S4 is going to last 3-4 days on one charge with any sort of regular use, so it can make sense for people to simply slip their SIM card into an older device for the duration. There won’t be any uploading of photos to Instagram, but this could be a small price to pay for making sure you’re able to stay in touch with people back home in case of an emergency.
As it stands, we believe that there is a good chance there will always be feature phones of some sort in use. Since there is no clear distinction between the two types of handset it’s likely that manufacturers will gradually produce more cut-price devices that take on smartphone features, as can be seen with Nokia’s Asha range. There will always be cheap phones, catering for a variety of markets all over the world, and these handsets will simply get better and more powerful with time.