Is It Time for Content Providers to Dump Feature Phones?

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 (s scor) 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 (s orcl) 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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