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Summary:

Although feature phones still outsell smartphones, a greater number of smartphone users accessed mobile content in apps and browsers than consumers with feature phones for the first time ever in the U.S., says comScore. But the app economy is helping feature phones too, says one company.

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Although feature phones still outsell smartphones, a greater number of smartphone users accessed mobile content both in apps and browsers than consumers with feature phones, for the first time ever. ComScore’s latest study of handset users in the U.S. shows smartphone subscribers account for nearly 60 percent of people who downloaded and used an app and 55 percent of those who used a browser between June and August. Based on the shifting trend, ComScore suggests that content providers focus more on the opportunities brought by smartphones.

Indeed, Mark Donovan, comScore’s senior VP of mobile, thinks that feature phone development should take a backseat in the U.S. market:

Although smartphones still make up less than a quarter of the U.S. mobile market, they are generating the lion’s share of mobile content consumption. With Smartphones’ share of the pie destined to get greater over time, marketers and content providers should begin to shift their focus towards developing with primarily these devices in mind.

I agree with Donovan’s comment that the smartphone is the future: Hardware functionality is maturing as prices for handsets remains the same, or in some cases, is even decreasing. But feature phone app and service providers around the globe shouldn’t call it quits just yet. Last week at our Mobilize event, I spent a few brief minutes with GetJar’s CEO and founder, Ilja Laurs. GetJar is currently the second largest mobile app store with over a billion downloads to date. Laurs told me that the smartphone app economy is also helping the feature phone market, as evidenced by GetJar’s tripling of download volume since January of this year. Yes, GetJar provides apps to smartphones, but also offers a wide library of Java-based apps and supports over 2,000 unique handsets.

For developers and content providers, the future is bright for smartphones. I wouldn’t argue otherwise because the trend is clear. It’s going to take several years before the world’s nearly 5 billion mobile subscribers adopt smartphones; approximately 10 percent of the global population has already done so. Here in the U.S., the smartphone has the upper hand, as evidenced both by comScore’s data and the estimate that half of all U.S. consumers will use a smartphone by the end of next year. In the rest of the world, however, there’s ample opportunity in feature phones for a bit yet.

ComScore’s data may focus on smartphone usage, but developers of feature phone apps can take away some positive information, such as the type of apps and content most in demand. Weather, maps and social networking apps were the top downloaded categories, so the next great feature phone app just might come from one of those genres.

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  1. This isn’t analysis unless Chicken Little was an analyst.
    An effect isn’t a cause and correlation is not causation.
    Verizon and other providers have dramatically reduced the number of “feature phone” handsets (to use their marketing jargon) they make available.

    That’s not because people don’t want them. That’s because they make grotesquely more money on data plans. In fact, Verizon has reclassified many “feature” phones as smart phones simply so they can require a data plan.

    So do some actual research. Are the phones labeled in your numbers actually smart phones? Do people no longer want phones that simply have good voice quality and reception or are fancier phones being shoved down their throat?

    Do some analysis. Don’t parrot marketing data.

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    1. Just so I’m clear: are you critiquing comScore’s research or what I’ve said about the numbers in their data?

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      1. I tend to agree with some of what is said in Rockbin’s comments. There is a whole lot of gray in between feature and smart phones. I for one use a feature phone that Verizon recently within the last year required to have a data plan. I think your data is incomplete.

        You need to research those percentages on the smart phones and portion out the ones that were feature phones that were “reclassified” into the smart phone bracket.

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  2. 10% of the global population does not have smartphones.

    There are 6.8 billion people on the planet.

    Also knows how they are counting smartphones (is there 400 million in use or just sold?) and who knows how they are defining smartphones?

    And who says 4.6 billion mobile subs are 4.6 billion individuals? Or if all those are phones. Many might lumped under computers.

    btw, it would be great if someone made a modern feature phone ala iphone. Could they make a half-sized iPHone with much less cpu/gpu power with only basic feature phone functions for under $200 without contract? Would love it.

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  3. Uhmm, while the idea sounds great for some carriers, the fact is still that the installed base of feature phones will still be larger in use than smartphones for another half decade, if not longer.

    There doesn’t seem to be any definition of what specific feature phone platforms should be signaled out, nor the clearer admission of what smartphone platforms which are targeting feature phone price points.

    For a content provider, it is way too early to think about this. Smartphone platforms aren’t even mainstream enough in well-saturated mobile areas except for some niche content areas.

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  4. Wow, looks like I may have to ditch a cell phone entirely and go with a landline to save money.

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  5. [...] the Open Mobile Ad Exchange. Just yesterday, I pondered about content providers and developers giving up on feature phones since comScore reported that more smartphone users in the U.S. were down…. It’s too early to simply abandon feature phones just yet, as they account for roughly 90 [...]

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  6. Dick Woodcock Tuesday, October 5, 2010

    Is it time for content providers to dump feature phones? The answer is no. Just because more smart phones users access the web and download apps than feature phone users is not a good reason. Most people who did that kind of stuff probably switched to smart phones; that’s why the numbers changed. That doesn’t mean it’s time to dump feature phones.

    There are plenty of people out there who don’t want or need a smart phone right now. Some (like me) don’t have the need for one yet. Some folks only use their phone as a phone, believe it or not. Some don’t want to pay extra for the data plans.

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  7. Self-Important Cell-Phone Suckers Wednesday, October 6, 2010

    Most “smartphones” are purchased by idiotic, self-important suckers who sacrifice significant savings for crappy gadget features.

    My Net10 phone costs me $15 per month (and that’s too much). I have it (1) for 9-1-1 on the road and (2) because payphones have vanished. I maintain a land-line phone (not a crappy, unreliable VOIP one) for copper’s quality.

    1% of the U.S. population, at most, could justify a need for a “smartphone”: exceptional, on-call astronauts, doctors, rescuers, etc. The rest are usually obnoxious jerks.

    Example: Laughable iPhone users, who shell out circa $2,000 per year to fund their delusions of grandeur and Jobs’s megalomania.

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  8. Would I like a smartphone instead of my feature phone? Yes.
    Can I afford a smartphone w/ forced data plan over my feature phone? No.
    Until that problem is fixed, there will still be people using feature phones.

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  9. Maybe if the effing carriers werent charging the 29.99 data plan fee on top of the average 49.99 voice plan fee for a smart phone, more of us would sign up for smart phones. Until then if they totally eliminate ‘feature phones’ (e.g. PHONES you genius), then i’ll find another carrier or use my company provided phone alone.

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  10. Dick – your comment explains exactly why “Content Providers” should stop supporting feature phones, at least in the US. People who choose to purchase them are very unlikely to take advantage of the data offered by content providers. People who buy smartphones, on the other hand, are.

    Cel companies shouldn’t stop offering them, as your comment makes abundantly clear. But there’s little need for content providers to spend a bunch of money making “mobile optimized” content for them, when the people who use them are unlikely to request it, almost by definition.

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