Blog Post

When It Comes to Apps, Feature Phones Are the New Black

Feature phones -– you know, those passé, non-OS handsets that account for a whopping 83 percent of the overall U.S. handset market -– are set to join their higher-end counterparts as viable vehicles for mobile applications. Carriers that have watched the app space explode are finally taking steps to make consuming mobile data easier for their customers with mid- and low-end phones. In just the last few weeks, for instance:

While it’s too early to say exactly how these moves will impact the industry, the potential here is huge. As I describe in my weekly column at GigaOM Pro (sub. req’d), network operators have historically displayed an abundance of greed and a staggering lack of vision when it comes to mobile applications, which is why carrier-branded offerings have stagnated while the wave of new app stores takes flight. But the operators are certainly showing a renewed interest in bringing more advanced offerings to the feature phone users that represent the overwhelming majority of their subscribers. And that’s good news not just for consumers but for all the players who are part of the booming mobile app ecosystem.

Read the full article here.

Image courtesy of Flickr user compujeramey

11 Responses to “When It Comes to Apps, Feature Phones Are the New Black”

  1. Me myself and i

    Only thing thats smart about smartphones are the companies who sell them. Imagine the internet pre 1996 where most data was controlled.. time and sites visited were add downloading things to the money pit and in the end..the word UNLIMITED is misplaced on a smartphone. Owning the device will cost you dearly and god help the parents who decide to give one to their teens..Insane.

  2. tactilejones

    Oh yeah, and 8 gigs of removable flash storage. Unfortunately, I can’t post comments with more than 200 characters. Wait, I take it all back. This phone really is dumb after all.

  3. tactilejones

    WTF?? I have a feature phone–the Samsung Instinct–and have over 50 JavaME apps, Opera Mini 5, Garmin-like navigation, and have been dl’ing apps from getjar since day 1. I don’t get what’s new here?

  4. First you need to really define “what” exactly is a feature phone. most people seem to get this wrong from the start. If you compare a smartphone like an HTC Dream or even an iPhone with some feature phones today you will see the difference are becoming progressively less and less. Take a Samsung Instinct M810 S30 for example. Basically the phone runs on Java as opposed to a native operating system like Blackberry, Symbian or Android. In our book, it’s therefore a feature phone. However, compared side to side with today’s “smartphones” it’s not stupid! It has a very high res camera, can surf the mobile internet at high speeds, has an excellent screen, is touchscreen, can play games, listen to music and run apps.

    so what’s the big difference? maybe it’s not as fast and the apps aren’t as rich an experience as say the iphone or an Android handset.

    Big deal? That’s what we have to ask consumers. Just how important is the depth of experience for the average Joe. We say “not enough”. And the numbers speak for the themselves. Of our 850 million downloads to date 60% are from feature phones. That’s a huge share of the market.

    Smart developers and content owners will seize on this opportunity and leave the others to squabble over the other 40% of the market


  5. Chris K

    Most people aren’t going to want to pay for the data plan. Even more so when they are asked to buy a data plan for not only themselves, but one for each member of the family.

    That’s why feature phones will remain.

    I don’t need apps for mine either. Although I would love it if getting contacts to and from my feature phone were as easy as the iPHone. Same with the pictures. And ringtones. …..

  6. 5 years from now these will be quaint antiques. They lack core performance, internet connectivity is weak and storage and User Interface is lacking. The carriers should be skating to where the puck is clearly heading. I can’t imagine either Apple, Google, Microsoft producing a feature phone. Demand for Internet connectivity AND the richness that it offers is where the puck will end up. Apps are not a business model and do not scale to other platforms with different user interfaces and operating environments.

    There is only one ring – the Internet.

  7. I still use feature phone and it’s a “Phone” I want. I don’t need a smart phone because I have a laptop, ipod touch, and iPad (late April). So, I just need a phone for “phone” function. Therefore, I will never buy any apps for my feature phone.

    • You’ve put your finger on the key point. Most people who have feature phones probably either prefer them (long battery life, better phone function) or can’t afford the upgrade. Either way, it’ll be tough to to make money retrofitting these phones for apps.

  8. What!? We shouldn’t be supporting feature phones to make them better! We should be trying to eliminate them! Feature phones are old a stupid. SmartPhones are the news today!