Pushed by Smartphones, Feature Phones Up Their Game

Carl Weinschenk

While high-profile smartphones-the iPhone, the Droid, the Palm Pre and the rest of the gang-get the lion's share of attention, it's important to remember that the bulk of phones are not too smart.


Feature phones seemed to be defined either as simply every phone that's not a smartphone, a phone without a QWERTY keyboard or in a manner focusing on the nature of the onboard operating system. In any case, though they are losing a bit of ground to smartphones, the feature phone will remain the largest category for the foreseeable future. It also seems that the line between the smartphone and feature phone will blur over time.


The New York Times describes the new functions that feature phones are getting. Writes reporter Jenna Wortham:

Although once easily identified by boxy designs and minuscule, poorly pixelated screens, many feature phones these days more closely resemble their smarter cousins because software improvements enable them to run more sophisticated mobile applications.

Wortham describes how these sophisticated apps are reaching the phones and, perhaps more importantly, lays out the promising market represented by people who want to do cool things with the phones but don't want to pony up the money for a smartphone.

The changing cellular world in general and feature phones' place in it is a theme of this year end/year start roundup at Twice. J. Mark Howell, the president of wireless management firm Brightpoint Americas, was particularly downbeat about feature phones. Their market is eroding, he said, because lower-tier smartphones are incorporating more feature phone features and higher smartphone subsidies from service providers are enticing more people to move up in class. "The feature phone is being squeezed out," he said.

Some companies didn't get the memo, however. There were three feature phone news items last month. Verizon Wireless introduced the V Cast Media Manager, a tool for synching between feature phones and PCs. Samsung announced the M5650, a feature phone aimed at music lovers. Finally, Acer is said to be ready to use the Brew platform for feature phone introductions, though the reports were a bit tentative.

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