Smartphone: Not dumb anymore: Riding on new tech, feature phone … – Top Stories| Top Stories
Eighteen years and many smartphones later, the Matrix phone is back in a new avatar — as Nokia 8110 4G ‘Banana Phone’ — and so is the trend for feature phones. These not-so-smart phones are making a comeback, not just India, but in many parts of the world.
According to Counterpoint Research, global smartphone market grew only 2% in 2017 and feature phones seem to be making a comeback. Market for feature phones rose 5% to 450 million devices. While it was the year of slowest growth for smartphones, it was the first time feature phones recorded growth in years. Though India has given a big push to feature phones with JioPhone, the market is growing across Asia, Africa and even Europe.
According to International Data Corporation, smartphone growth in Africa shrunk from double digits to single digit while feature phones captured more than half of the market at 56%. In central and eastern Europe, feature phone market grew 7%.
India drove the feature phone growth with JioPhone of Reliance Jio. Feature phones pushed out iOS phones to grab the second position after Android phones in the mobile phone market. The trend suggests how iOS and Android market in India dipped and a new entrant, JioPhone, emerged riding on a new operating system. The feature phones have already beaten iOS with 15% market share in India while iOS remains at 9.6%.
While Indian feature phone market was driven by JioPhone, it was Nokia that became the disruptor in Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) with a 13% increase in shipment. The main reason behind this surge was Nokia’s brand new feature phones launched in 2017.
While Android and iOS were catering to the needs of the masses, consumer preference shifted back to basics. According to a survey by Kantar IMRB, Indian feature phone users spend four times more time watching TV on their phones compared to the national average. That’s beating smartphone at its own game.
The affluent return to feature phone
Breaking the general stereotype that feature phone buyers usually belong to mid- or low-level socioeconomic background, the survey found that 75% of respondents belonged to high socioeconomic classes. The survey found more affluent users of feature phones in the north and south regions.
Many believe this return to feature phones can be due to nostalgia. Almost half of all respondents IMRB spoke to were aged 35 years or older. They could be the same people who must have used feature phones back in their time when smartphones were not available. This shows nostalgia could be a big factor in feature phones staging a come back.
It is usually believed feature phone users are actually smartphone aspirants but cannot afford one at the time, but the IMRB report differs. The report says only 15% of the respondents they surveyed definitely intended to switch to a smartphone. This explains customer satisfaction with the new feature phone which now have almost everything a smartphone has at a pocket-friendly price.
How tech smartens up feature phones
Smartphones made feature phones obsolete because of new technology that gave a smartphone user everything a computer could. But a new operating system has helped dumb feature phones acquire a few vital smart features. KaiOS, a Linux-based mobile operating system that power JioPhone too, can revolutionised the mobile phone market.
A KaiOS-enabled feature phone can give you 4G connectivity, Google and social media apps such as WhatsApp and Facebook. Jiophone goes a step further by now planning to provide voice assistance and video-calling features. If feature phones are no longer dumb, they can see explosive growth.
KaiOS also powers latest feature phones of Nokia, AT&T and T-Mobile among many others. KaiOS has certainly made feature phones more useful and desirable. The war will now be between smartphones and smart feature phones.
Companies spot new potential in feature phone
Many companies see growth in the feature phone market and are backing KaiOS. Even Google—which pioneered the smartphone revolution with its Android operating system—sees a new potential in feature phones. It recently invested $22 million in KaiOS. Reliance too has bought 16% stake in it for $7 million.
Major mobile manufacturers are now in the race to tap this new emerging market. KaiOS is working closely with manufacturers such as Nokia, TCL, HMD Global, Reliance Jio, Sprint, AT&T, T-Mobile and Micromax.
A sign of feature phone market hotting up is Nokia and Reliance Jio, both using KaiOS, eyeing a big chunk of users in India.