Until recently, smartphones were seen as complex and expensive devices. In comparison feature phones seemed much easier to use and were certainly less expensive. However, in the last couple of years, this scenario has rapidly evolved.
In today’s market, smartphones have become cheaper and simplified, thus making the learning curve less steep for users. In fact, for the first time in history, smartphones sales have crossed that of feature phones. Of the 435 million handset units sold in Q2 of 2013, 225 million were smartphones. This is essentially 51.8% of all mobile phones that were sold across the world in that time period.
It is clear that smartphones have triumphed feature phones. Let’s take a look at some of the reasons behind the dominance of smartphones in the mobile industry, and see if this is the end of the road for feature phones.
The cost of smartphones is steadily dropping, and therefore the price difference between smartphones and feature phones has narrowed down considerably. The International Data Corp. (IDC) states that smartphones costing less than INR 16,000 covered 27% of the market in 2011, and that number increased to 37% within a year. Similarly, the segment of smartphones priced between INR 5,000 to INR 6,500 increased by over 750%.
To cater to the demands of potential customers, smartphone makers are increasingly releasing low-cost models. Samsung has launched smartphones that cost less than INR 13,000. Blackberry’s Q5 is said to be priced between INR 13,000 to INR 19,000, which is much less than its higher end Q10. Nokia too has bought out its affordable Asha series. Apple, known for designing only high-end smartphones, is rumored to be releasing its first low-cost cell phone, the iPhone 5C, in September 2013.
Smartphones are packed with a wide range of features. You can engage in social networking, download apps, browse the net, and do a variety of things with them. Many people who do not own computing devices conveniently use their smartphones as pocket computers. Feature phones on the other hand do not offer much functionality. They have very limited or no web connectivity, and do not run third-party software or applications.
Smartphone users can stay connected through emails, sync their calendars, edit documents, and even conduct video chats through their handsets. This is particularly useful for business professionals. Though some feature phones do allow corporate emailing, the program usually comes with quite a few glitches.
Is it curtains for feature phones?
Feature phones are not dead yet, but their numbers are certainly plummeting. However, statistics show that 47% of mobile subscribers in America still use feature phones. Furthermore, 3G and 4G data connections are not yet available across the world, especially in developing countries. In fact, only about 45% of the global population has access to 3G, and this number will rise to about 85% in the next four years. This means that till then, billions will not be able to make full use of their smartphones.
In addition, feature phones are durable, and have solid battery life. Moreover, some people still like the feel of a physical keypad better than a touchscreen. Kevin Packingham, executive vice president at Samsung, says that the lifespan of feature phones has not come to an end.
The story, however, is not the same everywhere. Jan Uddenfeldt, Sony Ericsson CTO, says that the company has completely moved out of the feature phone market as 90% of their sales are of smartphones. Senior vice president at LG, Jinsung Choi, explains that inexpensive smartphones will eventually take over the feature phone market. He adds that operators are spending huge sums of money on marketing smartphones. While it is not yet curtains for feature phones, it sure looks like they are in the final act of their performance!