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:
- GetJar has inked deals to place its catalog of feature phone apps to both Canadian operator Rogers and Sprint.
- AT&T introduced online services that are aimed at bringing smartphone-like functionality to features phones.
- Qualcomm said it will integrate both Opera Mini 5 and Opera Mobile 10 into the Brew mobile platform, which has non-smartphone partnerships with Verizon Wireless, Sprint, U.S. Cellular, and most recently, AT&T.
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.