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Thursday, October 20, 2011

The future for feature phones isn’t as bleak as it first appears

Mark Bridge writes:

With Hallowe’en just around the corner, thoughts turn to the departed... and it would be easy to think that the market for feature phones is in the technological graveyard. After all, Sony Ericsson has recently said it’ll be dropping feature phones from its product range in 2012. But perhaps the battle of feature phone vs smartphone isn’t over yet.

In fact, recent research suggests there’s still plenty of fight in the old dog. Rather like the petrol engine and AM radio, the feature phone appears to be holding on much longer than many people had previously expected.

This news comes from what might appear to be an unlikely source: Qualcomm. The wireless technology company, whose chips are found in the majority of Android smartphones, asked comScore to look at usage of the Brew mobile platform. Brew MP is a mobile operating system - and a Qualcomm product - that’s found on a wide range of devices, including feature phones and mass-market smartphones.

comScore’s research suggests that half of the top ten mobile devices in the United States are Brew devices. Put another way, 40% of feature phones in the USA run the Brew platform. It means there are around 65.5 million Brew MP users in America; almost as many as the total number of US smartphone subscribers (estimated at 70 million).

As well as being a popular choice, the Brew MP also seems to encourage smartphone-like usage and features. 69% of Brew users are on post-paid contracts compared with 39% of non-Brew featurephone owners - and 47% of Brew devices have 3G capabilities, compared to 32% of other featurephones. Overall, Brew subscribers are 22% more likely to use the mobile internet, applications or downloadable content compared to non-Brew feature phones.

And it’s not just comScore predicting continuing high volumes in the feature phone segment. According to Strategy Analytics, 61% of worldwide mobile phone sales in 2014 will be non-smartphones.

What does this mean?  Well, I’d say it means the market for feature phones definitely isn’t dead. Instead, it appears that feature phones are evolving. They’re getting smarter... and may even be living longer!

[Qualcomm blog; comScore research (pdf)]

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