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Is It Time to Rethink Feature Phones?
7/19/2013

Source: International Data Corp., 'Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker'
Source: International Data Corp., "Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker"

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junko.yoshida
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which feature phone was (or still is) your favorite?
junko.yoshida   7/19/2013 1:02:38 PM
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Here's my questions to everyone. Which feature phone was your absolute favorite? And maybe you are still use it...if so, attach that picture here in the comment box please!

chanj0
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Pros of Feature Phone
chanj0   7/19/2013 1:26:12 PM
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The pros of feature phone is really lightweight and low power consumption. I remember the last feature phone that I used last for a week w/o recharging. When I'm on the road and constantly on the phone for a week, I just need to give some juice to it every 3 to 4 days. Compared to it, 2 of my smartphones last only for 2 days w/o much usage. If I keep checking email and post to my social network apps, I will need to connect its USB tail every day, if not every half a day.


In addition to power saving, feature phone is particularly useful to elderly. I believe most senior person don't care much about mobile computing. Even they do, a 5.5" screen is probably too small for them; a 10" tablet will better serve. On the other hands, the ease of use and the potentially large button on a feature phone will come really handly for most senior person. The nature of individual buttons just makes life a bit easy.

DMcCunney
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Define "feature phone"
DMcCunney   7/19/2013 1:37:40 PM
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A good part of the discussion will depend on how you define "feature phone".

One thing I've thought for a while now is that going forward, every phone will be a smartphone, simply because it can be.  (Or we might see a steadily advancing idea of what a smartphone is, with a higher level of basic capabilities required to qualify.)

Previously, feature phone vs smartphone distinctions were based on cost and technology.  The hardware needed to make a smartphone was expensive, and the phone itself was expensive as a consequence.

Feature phones used less expensive technology, cost less to make, and could be sold for less to customers who couldn't afford (or simply didn't want) a smartphone.

Technology has advanced and become steadily smaller, faster, and cheaper.  Today's feature phone will be yesterday's smartphone, in terms of what's inside.

What will define feature phone vs smartphone will be software based capabilities, because the hardware will no longer be the main bottleneck.  Thinking about it, I can see possible generations of feature phones that can be upgraded to smartphones with no change in the hardware: pay more to unlock capabilities and install the software needed to use them.  The hardware itself is cheap - the value is in what you can do with it.

There will certainly still be hardware distincrions, like whether the phone has a camera and the amount of installed RAM, but a low end phone will be something that would have been high end indeed a few years ago,

Nokia's results are no surprise, with the significant factor being the reduction in losses.  Part of that may be a result of simplification of their product line.  When you make as many different models of phone as Nokia did, you wing up competing with yourself, and make it harder for any particular model to attain the sales required to be profitable.

Part of Nokia's challenge will be to cut costs to be profitable in the feature phone market.  The other part will be becoming competitive in the smartphone space, and I think that will be a much tougher nut for them to crack.

Tom Murphy
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Re: which feature phone was (or still is) your favorite?
Tom Murphy   7/19/2013 1:40:27 PM
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My favorite phone of all times (3G and 4G smartphones included) was my old Nokia candy bar phone, similar to the one photographed in your blog. I just got it out of a drawer and instantly was reminded of why I loved it:  one week on a charge, good sound, and the ability to text if I needed to, which I don't very often.  As it turns out, I don't like having email on my phone -- I prefer to deal with emails when I can sit down at a laptop.   It was cheap -- free with my service contract -- and small enough that I could slip it into tiny pockets comfortably.

Frankly, I'm thinking of going BACK to a feature phone for its convenience. Smartphones don't work the way they're advertised thanks to the rotten networks, and they are VERY expensive at a time when most people are looking to save a little green.

In emerging countries, where wireless networks are just emerging, feature phones are all the rage -- it is that market where Nokia and others have found fast growth and established their brand names, setting the scene for a Round Two of fighting over market share.  Will you see Apple in those markets? Probably not.

chanj0
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The future of Nokia
chanj0   7/19/2013 1:47:13 PM
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The data clearly shows the slump sales of feature phones. Why is Nokia hanging on the market, still releasing new feature phones?


"Something is better than nothing. As long as there is still something, you'd better hang on to it until it is completely gone. Hopefully, you've find a new market by then. "


I'm sure Nokia's management is having this in mind. At the same time, they are looking into various option. Lumia is one of those although it doesn't seem to get enough attention.

Every product has a cycle. New product, less competition, high profit margin. Market saturation, brutual competition, low profit margin. Samsung and HTC are all jumping into entry level smartphone which is smaller in size and low cost. I'm surprise that Nokis hasn't released any low cost smartphone in the US market.

 

junko.yoshida
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Re: Pros of Feature Phone
junko.yoshida   7/19/2013 2:09:45 PM
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I hear you, chanj.

My late father, who was an engineer, was too old to use a mobile phone by 2007 -- due to several small strokes he had in his late years.  But his curiocity got over him and told me, "Junko, I would like to use 'keitai' (means mobile in Japanese)." This was three months before he died.

I wish I got him a keitai. But then, I keep thinking what mobile handset, in his physical state, could have been the best for him... and really, none comes to my mind... 

junko.yoshida
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Re: Define "feature phone"
junko.yoshida   7/19/2013 2:37:14 PM
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That's a very good question. When Spreadtrum is making a killing by selling their cihps to $50 smartphones in China, obviously, differences between smartphones and feature phones are no longer about the cost.

The way it is defined today, from what I understand, is differences in OSes. How many apps can it run? 

Remember, many feature phones today already have cameras and even Internet connections (although it may not work that well.)

I apologize for thinking out loud here...but  I am acurious to find out if there is a market segment to be cultivated...where simple, elegant, "doing less" phones consuming less power can win. 

Don't call it a granny mobile (because that would kill its potential market instantly), but I am hoping something like that could pop up. 

DMcCunney
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Re: Define "feature phone"
DMcCunney   7/19/2013 2:56:26 PM
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obviously, differences between smartphones and feature phones are no longer about the cost.

Well, not so much about the cost of the underlying hardware, at least.

The way it is defined today, from what I understand, is differences in OSes. How many apps can it run?

Differences in OSes don't directly limit how many apps it can run, but do determine how many apps are available to run.  (Hardware limitations may rule out some apps.  No point to an app for manipulating and sharing photos, for example, if your phone lacks a camera, even if the hardware is powerful enough to execute the app.)

App developers want to sell apps, and will concentrate on what they perceive to be the most profitable markets.  So there are a plethora of apps for the iPhone running iOS, and a plethora for Android.  The state of app development for Windows Phone is open to some question: my understanding is that the tools and APIs for doing the development are better than they are for Android, but developers still have to be convinced there is an actual profitable market to be addressed before they jump in.

There are plenty of niche markets still - there are still a boatload of phones out there running Nokia's former Symbian OS, for instance, plus Blackberries and things like the Palm Pre and Pixi, but the number of developers still writing for those markets will be small.

junko.yoshida
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Re: The future of Nokia
junko.yoshida   7/19/2013 3:28:53 PM
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Chanj, that's a damn good point:

I'm surprise that Nokis hasn't released any low cost smartphone in the US market.

But i wonder how big that segment of the market really is in the United States. I need to check that.

 

mhrackin
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Re: which feature phone was (or still is) your favorite?
mhrackin   7/19/2013 3:34:41 PM
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Like many people, I carry 2 cell phones: a smartphone provided by my employer (iPhone 4), and a "feature phone" (LG8350) that I pay for (as a prepaid).  I've owned several feature phones before the LG (all Motorolas); the LG is my favorite because it's simple to use, has all the features I want (SMS, camera with decent quality, etc.) and a couple I've never used or wanted.  The iPhone replaced an old Blackberry (which I hated because of the tiny keyboard), but i've come to hate it as much as the Blackberry (because I often need to edit text in e-mail or SMS, and the interface design makes that difficult).  However, I do like Facetime, as I have grandchildren living far away!  It's a lot easier to use than Skype.

Regarding cameras, I haven't seen ANY featurephone (with the possible exception of the ones marketed using the "freephone" boondoggle) that doesn't have at least a 1-2Mpixel camera in years!

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