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Facebook last week unveiled a new app — for feature phones. Those “quaint” devices are usually overlooked by developers, and for some good reasons. Smartphone users consume far more data because their handsets offer more sophisticated operating systems and superior hardware. They’re vastly better vehicles for playing games, watching videos and surfing the web. Smartphone sales are expected to begin outpacing feature phone sales in the U.S. sometime this year, according to Nielsen.
But the fact is, nearly three-quarters of U.S. subscribers don’t own a smartphone — and that figure is surely much higher in many foreign markets. So if you’re a content publisher or app developer, should you follow the social network giant’s lead and target feature phones in addition to Android, iOS and other smartphones?
If Facebook wants its reach to stretch around the globe, offering a feature phone app is a no-brainer. But Facebook already has 500 million (by some accounts, 600 million) users. One of the factors its developers, as well as other smartphone developers, must understand when creating and distributing apps is how much reach they need — or want.
Mobile data usage is ramping up substantially in emerging markets — like those in Africa — where smartphone uptake lags. Feature phones don’t provide the level of high-quality user experience that smartphones do, but they still account for the vast majority of handsets worldwide. And they’re still adequate for accessing mobile websites and using some applications that enable basic social network interaction (like Facebook’s) or simple, casual gaming. So feature phone apps can surely remain an attractive avenue for developers looking to bring their wares to developing markets.
However, there are numerous other factors developers must keep in mind when considering feature phones. For an in-depth look at more of those, see my weekly column at GigaOM Pro (subscription required).
Image source: Flickr user goosmurf.
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