The Year Of The Dumb And Dumber, Sub-$100 Smartphone – 500 Million Of Them

We’ve heard about how the boom in smartphone popularity, the dropping cost of components and the rapid rise of Android, a “free” smartphone OS, has led to a number of handset makers driving down the price for smartphones — with devices selling for less than $100 becoming more and more of a reality. Now, consultants at Deloitte have put a figure on just how many of these devices will be in the market by the end of this year: more than half a billion. But many of these smartphones, they say, will be a far cry from what we think of as high-end devices today.

In a new report bringing together dozens of predictions in telecoms, media and technology for the year ahead, Deloitte paints a picture of a “dumber” smartphone than the ones we know today. Largely absent will be Android, iOS, RIM (NSDQ: RIMM), Symbian and Windows Phone. In their place, closed, proprietary platforms:

“Many consumers, particularly middle majority adopters, are likely to consider phones as smart if they have touch screens or full keyboards and not what intangible OS is under the hood,” Deloitte writes.

Nor will many of them even carry 3G — instead running on slower data services like GRPS and EDGE, because chipsets for faster data will still cost too much to integrate into cheap handsets.

However, WiFi is likely to become a “standard” feature of these devices, as will email, instant messaging, a pared-down form of apps and a camera — a list of services, that, along with the touchscreens, seem to now be the smartphone bare essentials. As prices for components continue to drop, specifications for these sub-$100 phones will continue to get better (or smarter, as the case may be).

Deloitte says that a lot of these devices are aimed at developing markets, but points out that there is also an opportunity in more advanced markets where economies are “stagnant.”

With companies like Nokia (NYSE: NOK) and Samsung looking drive improvements and experience in their feature phone platforms (Nokia recently buying Smarterphone, and Samsung looking to progress its bada platform by merging features with its new Tizen project), the implication here is that the boom in smartphones is even driving growth in the feature phone segment — feature phones, that is, that can now be considered slightly less-clever smartphones.

Deloitte predicts that in 2012, there will be at least 300 million of these sub-$100 handsets sold to consumers worldwide, which they have added to the 200 million they estimate were sold at this price point this year.