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Cellphones Technology

The Feature Phone Is Dead: Long Live the 'Basic Smartphone' 243

Posted by Soulskill
from the phones-of-middling-intelligence dept.
zarmanto writes: "The numbers have been telling us for a while now that (formerly expensive) feature phones have been slowly displaced by more feature-rich, high-end smartphones. Thus, it should come as no surprise that the other end of the market is also receiving active encroachment by low-end smartphones. Now, ARM is suggesting that it's actually quite conceivable for OEMs to produce a 'smartphone' for as little as $20 — as long as you compromise a bit on those things which actually make it a smartphone in the first place. So, is this just more graying of the line between smartphones and feature phones? Or is this an indication that the feature phone (as we used to know it) is finally well-and-truly dead?"
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The Feature Phone Is Dead: Long Live the 'Basic Smartphone'

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 06, 2014 @01:00PM (#46931257)

    Or is this an indication that the feature phone (as we used to know it) is finally well-and-truly dead?"

    Assuming we've heard of this term "feature phone" in the first place.

    • by tomhath (637240)
      It's based on a Gartner analysis. You don't expect them to give meaningful information, do you?
      • Re:WTF Is "Dead"? (Score:5, Informative)

        by billstewart (78916) on Tuesday May 06, 2014 @02:16PM (#46932297) Journal

        Apparently "Dead" means "still close to half the phones being sold", aka "doesn't want to go in the cart!" Sure, they aren't gettin' better, but they're not dead yet.

        "Feature Phone" [wikipedia.org] is a standard industry term - it means phones that do more than basic calling, and often have installable applications, but aren't based on the iPhone/Android touchscreen designs that have taken over the market and usually don't run general-purpose operating systems (except maybe Symbian.) Most of them either don't have web browsing, or have some crippled-HTML-substitute like WAP. They're usually smaller (remember when being the smallest phone you could get meant it was the fanciest and most expensive?), often have clamshell designs, sometimes keyboards, and actually fit in your pocket.

        • by camperdave (969942) on Tuesday May 06, 2014 @02:19PM (#46932341) Journal

          it means phones that do more than basic calling, and often have installable applications, but aren't based on the iPhone/Android touchscreen designs

          Ah! So Blackberrys then.

        • actually fit in your pocket

          If you're a munchkin, sure. My 3GS (no case) fits neatly into the fob pocket of my Levis.
        • by mirix (1649853)

          Symbian was one of the original "smart" phones, really. As it had installable native apps and such. It's not as fancy, but it was pretty much the definition back then.

          The nokia feature phones ran S40 or similar, which could only run java apps, and were much more simplified in general. (all the integral apps had much less features, etc).

    • by mark-t (151149)
      Feature phones are cell phones with additional "features", especially the ability to run different applications that a user can decide to install on it.
      • by interkin3tic (1469267) on Tuesday May 06, 2014 @01:52PM (#46931999)
        From wiki [wikipedia.org] it sounds like the term is basically just "not a smartphone." Dumbphones evidently fall into that category. I'm guessing "feature phone" is simply a stupid marketing term that sounds better than "dumbphone."
        • by mark-t (151149)

          The term "feature phone" is not new... it's existed for almost as long as such phones have existed. It was invented to differentiate from just "cell phones", which are only capable of making or receiving calls and possibly text messages (although most phones with the latter capability are also feature phones). The feature phone is thus distinguished from the cell by having more "features".

          The distinguishing characteristic of a feature phone in my experience is that you can run applications on it that

      • by Charliemopps (1157495) on Tuesday May 06, 2014 @02:15PM (#46932291)

        They're much more popular in areas where computers are not much of an option like Africa. When I was there, you could stop at little wooden booths on the street and buy Feature phones and calling cards for a few dollars right along with various junk food and mystery meat on a stick. Due to the US cellular market being such a disaster no-one from the US's phone would work there unless you were an AT&T international plan. As a result everyone from the US would get off the plane and immediately buy one of these for $5 and enough minutes to call home.

        Are they dead in the US? They were never a "thing" here to begin with. In Africa and other very rural areas with poor infrastructure, they are basically the only computer you can get and are hugely successful. People run full blown businesses off the things. So no, they aren't dead. Most people in these areas have a hard time coming up with the $5 for the phone. The average wage where I was at was $7/month. So the difference between $5 and a fancy $20 smart phone is 3 months salary. Don't get me wrong, these people had wealth (land, livestock, clothes, etc...) . It just wasn't easily transferable to US currency. They bartered a lot.

    • Finally, the fabled future of the feature phone is found to be fabulous.
    • by Sigma 7 (266129)

      Technically, a feature phone is a class of cell phone half-way between conventional smart phones and cellphones that only allowed dialing.

      It's also a back-dated definition.

      As for programming software for one - don't bother. There's so many variants that it's easier to aim for an Android or iOS.

      • As for programming software for one - don't bother. There's so many variants that it's easier to aim for an Android or iOS.

        Also, there's no money there. The people that own feature phones have them because they either can't afford a smartphone, or they don't want to learn how to use one. Neither market segment is particularly prone to purchasing apps, and they're not as valuable to advertisers.

        • i think you left off a third demographic "people who reject the need for being CONSTANTLY connected/tracked"

          I make enough money for a smartphone, i know full well how to use one .. i just don't want to be constantly within nagging range of email or texts. And i definitely want nothing to do with social media, or stalking/snooping apps.

          If there was a compelling reason for a smart phone and/or app (other than social media nonsense, or the aforementioned email/texts) i'd buy a smart phone. but right now, it'

        • I'll add a fourth demographic: people who don't want to be bothered. My wife has an iPhone, I have a 4-year-old flip-phone that makes calls and that's about it. And I like it that way.
      • by tepples (727027)

        As for programming software for one - don't bother. There's so many variants that it's easier to aim for an Android or iOS.

        That and the fact that the way one installed apps on a lot of them was locked down like the game consoles. BREW was tuned for established companies rather than amateurs or startups, the developer certificates were more expensive than the $99 per year iOS certificate, and if I remember correctly, one had to negotiate to get the app in each carrier's catalog, not a central "BREW catalog" or even a particular manufacturer's catalog.

    • by Vairon (17314) on Tuesday May 06, 2014 @01:36PM (#46931803)

      From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/F... [wikipedia.org]
      "A feature phone is a mobile phone which is priced at the mid-range in a wireless provider's hardware lineup.[dubious – discuss] The term "feature phone" is a retronym. It is intended for customers who want a moderately priced and multipurpose phone without the expense of a high-end smartphone."

      In my mind there's 3 general categories to mobile phones:
      1. basic phone - Can make and receive phone calls. Example: Jitterbug phone
      2. feature phone - Supports limited browsing of web, changing ringtones, very basic games or applications and makes/receives phone calls. Example: Nokia 6020.
      3. smart phone - Runs an OS like Android or iOS with an application pool of thousands of applications to do similar functions as a PC along with making and receiving phone calls. Example: Samsung Galaxy S5

    • by steveha (103154)

      A "feature phone" is a phone that does more than just let you make calls, but is less not as powerful as a smartphone. I'd say that the key difference is that a smartphone lets you install apps, while on a featurephone, the only "apps" you get are the ones that came pre-loaded. You get what came with the phone and nothing else.

      Also, everyone expects a "smartphone" to have a multitouch screen these days. In the early days of smartphones, some phones didn't have this (e.g. the classic Blackberry had no tou

    • by wcrowe (94389)

      That was my question too. I'm glad I'm not the only one. More pretentious bullsh*t from Gartner masquerading as useful information. Do you care? Does anyone care? Perhaps the manufacturers care, but surely they are well aware of their sales numbers and are capable of populating a simple spreadsheet as well as Gartner can.

      Gartner: experts at telling you what you already know -- with charts.

    • Back when Feature Phones were "the thing", we called them "Camera Phones". Then, for reasons that don't make sense, after the iEverything came out, we started calling them Feature Phones.

      No, I don't understand either. If it's because both generally had cameras then (1) It's not as if every touchscreenappsphone needed to have a camera by definition, and (2) it's not as if touchscreenappsphones didin't have features.

      I can vouch for the article, FWIW. I'm about to switch back to a feature phone, and use a

      • When I swear off a technology, it usually means it's about to take over and nobody is going to even be given the choice of not using it any more. You heard me right: everything from Windows to Blu-ray is my fault. At some point I'll figure out how to use this power for good.

        Okay. We need you to embrace Windows 8, and Apple, and ditch open source. Oh, and for the love of Sanity Itself, please never abandon Slashdot Beta.

        • While many technologies I embrace fail, it's usually because the embrace occured as an implied part of swearing off a rival technology, and that rival's success implicity required the technology I liked to fail. Unfortunately, me merely embracing any of those will not ensure any of them fail, or a suitable improvement succeeds...

    • by sjames (1099)

      Once upon a time, we had phones. You dial the number and (if a cellphone), hit send. That was it.

      Then, they started adding features. Some quite useful like speed dial and an address book. Then a todo list, alarm clock, and calendar. These features made it a feature phone. Then they added a mostly useless limited web browsing ability (mostly useless because you had a 1.5x1.5 inch screen and only a phone keypad to enter text). Then text messaging. In other words, what people who aren't in marketing call a dum

    • I live in Slashdot's home country, and I've defined a feature phone as a phone that won't cause you to have to buy a data plan. The major U.S. CDMA2000 carriers (Verizon, Sprint, and Sprint-owned Boost and Virgin) refuse to on talk-and-text-only plans, and the U.S. GSM carrier with the best coverage (AT&T) will automatically add a data plan [slashdot.org] to a talk-and-text-only SIM if you insert it in a smartphone.
      • by LihTox (754597)

        I live in Slashdot's home country, and I've defined a feature phone as a phone that won't cause you to have to buy a data plan. The major U.S. CDMA2000 carriers (Verizon, Sprint, and Sprint-owned Boost and Virgin) refuse to on talk-and-text-only plans, and the U.S. GSM carrier with the best coverage (AT&T) will automatically add a data plan [slashdot.org] to a talk-and-text-only SIM if you insert it in a smartphone.

        Good point. That's the reason I have an iPod Touch and a separate dumbphone (for which I pay ~$50/year).

    • feature phone is the industry term for what we call "dumb" phones.

      i.e. old motorola four letter phones running p2k os
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 06, 2014 @01:00PM (#46931263)

    ... I require of my phone is that it make calls and sends/receive texts. My Tracfone costs me about $120 bucks a year. I'm not paying that much per MONTH for a smartphone for the added benefit of playing Candy Crush and watching cat videos on YouTube.

    • you don't want to waste gobs of money in order to join the facebook zombie army? sad.

    • by Mousit (646085) on Tuesday May 06, 2014 @02:38PM (#46932587)
      It's worth pointing out that having a smartphone no longer requires being forced into an expensive monthly post-paid service, a fact that is very much related to the posted article, if only tangentially. It certainly USED to be the case (in the U.S. especially), but these days there's quite a number of pre-paid services that are like Tracfone, that allow you to use a smartphone. StraightTalk comes to mind, since they offer Android and iPhones. Even AT&T's GoPhone (a service similarly priced to Tracfone, notably) lets smartphones on these days, though in the past I admit they used to outright reject them and tell you they could only be used on post-pay.

      Many pre-paid providers don't even require you to have a data plan with a smartphone. You can live on voice/SMS alone, and get your data needs via WiFi.

      Basically, it's entirely possible these days to enjoy both cheap service AND a smartphone. Though I won't begrudge anyone who truly does want a simple, voice-and-text-only phone. Have at 'em. But people who might like a smartphone but not the expensive service plan should not need to hold out anymore.
      • by tepples (727027)

        Many pre-paid providers don't even require you to have a data plan with a smartphone.

        Last time I checked, Virgin Mobile still required a data plan in order to activate an Android phone. To which U.S. prepaid carrier should I try switching? Ting?

    • by sootman (158191)

      > The only features I require of my phone is that
      > it make calls and sends/receive texts.

      Well la-di-da and good for you. You can go hang out with this guy [theonion.com] in the corner. I am more than willing to pay for all the things a modern smartphone does for me -- chief among them, maps with live traffic info, access to pretty much ANYTHING on the entire WWW at any time from any location, email, a bunch of USEFUL apps, and a very good camera. (Camera snobs please STFU; the camera is totally suitable for what I a

  • Not the phone (Score:5, Insightful)

    by dpilot (134227) on Tuesday May 06, 2014 @01:03PM (#46931287) Homepage Journal

    I suspect the real desire has nothing to do with the phone itself. The telcos just want to move everyone they possibly can from merely-slightly-expensive voice plans to very-expensive data plans.

    (Then call that "broadband internet access" for regulatory purposes.)

    • Re:Not the phone (Score:4, Informative)

      by NewWorldDan (899800) <dan@gen-tracker.com> on Tuesday May 06, 2014 @01:18PM (#46931541) Homepage Journal

      When I think about it, I really don't need a data plan anymore. 95% of my data is coming over WiFi networks anyway. My phone is already set up for data at home, work, the coffee shop, several restaurants, and my kid's school. The only time I really need data is if I'm lost and I need a map.

      On the other hand, I'm probably not all that typical. All I'm using for data is mostly email and weather. I don't play games on the phone and I'm not an app junkie. But even if I was, I think I could get by without an actual data plan.

      • by CastrTroy (595695)
        When I think about it, I don't really need a voice plan anymore. The only thing I use my phone for is to send text messages and look up information on websites. I find that my phone is much more useful as a mobile internet appliance than it is as a phone. The few times I do make a phone call, something like Skype could take up the slack if it was possible to get a phone without an actual voice plan. I guess you could just get a data only plan, but where I live, getting a data only plan is the same price
        • I guess you could just get a data only plan

          T-Mobile has a special plan (only available online or at Wal-Mart) that costs $30/month for unlimited data (5GB of 4G) but only 100 voice minutes. It's the closest thing I've found to a cheap data-only plan (at least a 4G one... 3G data-only plans can be even cheaper).

      • by afidel (530433)

        Get a Moto X or Moto G on Republic and use the $10/month unlimited voice/text plan and an offline map package (Google maps can easily save an entire metro area for offline use, if you want more than that there are paid apps with full continent maps and POI databases). If you find you want to use data at some point you can switch twice a month so turn on data and get it at a prorated $25/month for just as long as you use it.

      • by swv3752 (187722)

        Actually, I think you are like most people. You're usage profile matches my own and most people i know.

  • That's all I ask. Even on the crap Android 2.2 phone that was my original smartphone, being able to easily manage my calendars and contacts was HUGE. It was such a step up over the feature phones I'd previously had...

    I know the world is all about apps - but I could live with a basic smartphone that just did those two things (on top of the phone things - calling and SMS/MMS of course). Especially since I find my iPad Mini to be the perfect size for most other mobile tasks.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    The analysis is ignoring everyone who can't use a smartphone because of environmental factors (feature phones are much more resilient to dust, sand, impacts/falls, moisure, etc.) or techophobia (it's difficult to teach people a new UI, especially a non-tactile one, beyond a certain age).

    Feature phones will continue to be with us for a long time to come.

  • The concept of a "smartphone" seems to change at least twice a year. I seem to recall that some time ago it was just a phone that was also a PIM. Then Apple and others told us that a smart phone had to store and play music. Then Facebook told us the smart phone had to natively give them all our personal infomation. Then we were told a phone can't be smart without a 12 megapixel camera with zoom. Then we were told any phone that accesses the internet wirelessly slower than a cable modem isn't smart.
  • I have a year and half old LG that I paid 45$ for that does most of the things I want and has a real keyboard. I bought a new battery for it on it's anniversary but I haven't had the urge to spend any more on a phone.

  • by snookerdoodle (123851) on Tuesday May 06, 2014 @01:40PM (#46931847)

    Speaking as someone the rest of you might consider a Luddite because I have a feature phone (it's a Samsung with a touchscreen, I don't know the model), the devil's in the details of what the carriers require of you to connect the phone to their network.

    Verizon requires you to have a data plan to even use (e.g.) an iPhone. Even if you never use the data service. If Verizon considers your phone a "Smart Phone", they require you to have and pay for a data plan to use it. My understanding is that the other carriers have the same policy. The people that are buying these phones are paying these monthly fees.

    If you knew me, you'd know I'm not really a Luddite. For example, when I play my guitar, I don't play with a tube amp, but use a device that models a tube amp that is then plugged directly into a P.A. I pay for said device (a Line 6 HD 500) with the money I save by not paying for a data plan. I prefer to say I'm frugal.

    Also, what others have noted: It's Gartner. Seriously?

    • by BitZtream (692029)

      Its fairly easy to have them mail you a simcard and take you off the data plan. Tell them you lost your phone and have some simple phone that doesn't use data, check their website for models they have. Call them up, have them mail it to you, put it in yourself, no smart phone pricing and you can still use whatever android or iOS device you want.

      but use a device that models a tube amp that is then plugged directly into a P.A

      That just makes you a wanna-be. You're trying to pretend you understand why a tube amp is used ... and then not using it and trying to synthesis it. You've been

      • by puto (533470)
        You are giing misinformation. 1. A large number of Verizons phones do not have sim cards due to them being CDMA in nature. 2. When a GSM, CDMA phone hits the network can request the IMEI and match the make and model on the phone automagically and most networks(especially where I work) will then place a data plan on device and then text the customer what has happened. I was recently using an unlocked HTC phone in Colombia, and it quit working and advised me to go by the local Claro office. I went in and t
    • by RR (64484)

      Verizon requires you to have a data plan to even use (e.g.) an iPhone. Even if you never use the data service. If Verizon considers your phone a "Smart Phone", they require you to have and pay for a data plan to use it. My understanding is that the other carriers have the same policy. The people that are buying these phones are paying these monthly fees.

      The environment is more complicated since the last time you looked into cell phone plans. I don't blame you, because you have better things to do, but you might be able to save money with a smartphone, now.

      There's decent activity in Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNO), [howardforums.com] companies that rent capacity on the carriers' networks. Most of them have conventional plans that work with any phone from that carrier. If your usage falls into particular patterns, those plans can be cheaper than the carriers' own plans

      • Thanks for the thoughtful reply!

        We've stuck with Verizon because they still have a signal in places nobody else does. But, just as you noted about the data plans, even this is beginning to change as people start putting up cells out in the country. So, as our contract end gets near, I will take your advice and look elsewhere.

      • by msk (6205)

        Ting (ting.com, a CDMA MVNO) is $6 per month per phone. If you use no minutes, no text, no data, then $6 is all you pay.

    • by Rinikusu (28164)

      I've actually been looking at going that way for awhile. I currently have a smartphone and frankly, it's just one big distraction. Go out to eat? Everyone's on their phones. Go to the movies? Fuck me if everyone else in the theater can't seem to actually watch the movie rather than check and text on their phones. Driving cars? Oh, let's fucking respond to emails while driving.

      And I'm just as guilty of it as everyone else (except for the driving part, I decided against car ownership in Los Angeles).

      La

      • We actually still have a land line - mostly because the math worked us towards DSL and it's really cheap with truly unlimited minutes.

        I am impressed with no car in L.A. - I've only heard that the options there aren't great. I certainly see people texting. OTOH, I lived in NJ for many years and used to see people reading the newspaper, shaving, or putting on makeup while flying down the Garden State Parkway at 75 mph...

        Even with our dumb phones, we forbade texting at the dinner table with two teenagers. With

  • ...it's not like the carriers don't make it hard to get a dumb-phone or feature-phone. You have all of a selection of 0-5 in a store carrying 60 some phones.

    And no, the store doesn't get to decide what to carry. Corporate does; which is why you get insane things like stores in the Washing D.C metro area carrying all phones with cameras when 50% of the working population (a fluke of the W.D.C area) isn't allowed to have a camera (let alone a camera phone) at their desk at work.

    So Corporate has decided
  • by QuietLagoon (813062) on Tuesday May 06, 2014 @02:04PM (#46932155)
    The feature phone's biggest feature for me is the battery life. I charge my phone once every couple of weeks, if that much.
    .

    The smartphone's biggest detriment to me is all the data that resides on it, and how much the apps track your every move.

    • by asavage (548758)
      I have owned 3 cell phones. The first was a flip phone that lasted 16 days on stand by and I bought an extended battery that gave it even longer life. My second phone had a touch screen and a keyboard that slide out underneath. It lasted about a week on standby. Now I have a Nexus 4 that would probably only last 2 days on standby. This does everything I need from a phone and more but the biggest feature I want in my next phone is longer battery life. I don't need any more pixels, RAM, or CPU speed. Maybe a
  • by Dzimas (547818) on Tuesday May 06, 2014 @02:10PM (#46932213)
    My wife still carries a 4 year old Samsung feature phone with a slider keyboard. The reason? She doesn't like having to charge a handset every day or two. Her little phone will go for several weeks without charging, so she can just leave it in her shoulder bag most of the time. Her service is also dirt cheap because she doesn't have to worship at the altar of data -- she pays about $12/month. I really wish I could do the same and cut the strings; I'd probably save about $500 a year by going data-free.
  • by ThatsNotPudding (1045640) on Tuesday May 06, 2014 @02:11PM (#46932229)
    Smartphones = hugephones. I would be much more amenable to switch from my creaky Env2, if there was an actual Android phone that fit into human-sized shirt pockets.

    The second issue is more serious: $40 per month soaking for the 'data plan', for a phone that will mostly remain off during working hours per policy.
    • I have human-sized shirt pockets, and my Galaxy S4 fits perfectly, as would any of the iPhones.

  • ... is something like this [davidhunt.ie]. A better form factor would be nice, as would longer battery life. But one advantage this one has is that the GSM/GPRS module does not have direct acess to the processor busses. No provisioning your phone with malware/crapware by your network operator.

  • Here in Ireland - Tesco Mobile sells the Alcatel T'Pop Black for €29 PAYG and Vodafone sells a Samsung Galaxy Pocket Neo for €39 PAYG. That's retail price including VAT, albeit sim locked and you have to wait 12 months to unlock them. Undoubtedly these are pretty shitty by smart phone standards but they run Android and would probably be fine as a spare / temporary phone, a portable hotspot, a kid phone, a GPS tracker for running or whatever.

    Most phone sellers will sell a few candy bar phones bel

  • I can't tell if some people really haven't heard these terms before or it's some deep sarcasm. Feature phone = your average dumb phone. The phone you had before you had a phone that you could download and run mobile-OS specific applications. Its "features" probably included a calculator, calendar, camera and built-in WAP browser (even if you never used it), and probably allowed you to download and run Java apps (even if you never did). It may have even had a built-in music player. No options to install a n
  • I have old Nokia cellphone (it only calls and texts), Galaxy Note WiFi tablet and old 3G USB cell modem. If I need portable data I use cell modem with my laptop, I then have an option to use laptop as a WiFi hotspot and connect to it. Free WiFi is everywhere, so I rarely have to use modem.

    • by puto (533470)
      I carry a almost three year old Samsung Galaxy S2, with an extra large battery. I can 3 days out of it, and also use it as a mobile hotspot, and even do most of my internet stuff I need to from the phone. I like not having three devices when one does all.
  • Since I rarely use the mobile phones (don't even own one) and rarely go out (always use Internet indoor), it would be nice to have a backup Internet connection for my computers. I just don't want to pay a lot for something I would use rarely (a few times per year) and do want fast speeds and very high caps (unlimited preferred). Hence why I still use dial-up for $9.95 per month that has e-mails, usenet (binaries too), plenty of POPs, etc.

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