Smartphones are cool but feature phones are smart

In case you don’t know what the Nokia S40 is, here’s the Wikipedia page and a brief intro from that entry: Series 40 is a software platform and application user interface (UI) software on Nokia’s broad range of mid-tier feature phones

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I bet many reading this have never heard of S40. I am willing to guess that without knowing it though, many (if not most) of you have used an S40 device. The first of which came in to the market as early as 1999.

Recently there has been a ton of hype placed on the shoulders of the “Smartphone revolution”. I sit in meetings all day with “informed” people who have read a TechCrunch article and tell me that feature phones are dead and in the next two years smartphones will be the only thing left in the mobile market. Shut up.

Get your numbers in order and your facts straight before you talk about out something as if it is gospel. Feature phones are not dead. In fact if you have ever walked in to a PEP, Edgars, Vodashop or any other cellphone retailer for that matter, you’d know that feature phones are alive, well and thriving. Go and see for yourself (no, not you Alan Knott-Craig). Feature phones are everywhere and growing every second. The Samsung E250 is still one of, if not the biggest handset in Africa. You probably don’t even know what that phone looks like, do you?

This is the Samsung E250

Nokia, in that same 1.5bn report, slipped in that 12 S40 phones are being sold every second. I’d like to make that a more quantifiable number:

12 phones per second equals 720 phones per minute which equals 43 200 phones per hour which is the same as 1 036 800 per day. In total that means that Nokia sells 378 432 000 S40 handsets per annum.

Hold on, did I just hear the feature phone die?


Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that the smartphone isn’t growing. It is. Is it cool? Yes, the smartphone is cool. Is the iPhone the only smartphone out there? No. Can you do incredible things in an app on a smartphone? Yes. Should we be building for Blackberry in South Africa? Yes. Is Blackberry in trouble as a company on a global scale? Yes.

But that all changes nothing in relation to the feature phone in the emerging markets; it is not a dying handset but a thriving one.

Something that every emerging market needs to do is look at itself in the context of its continent, in the context of the world. Not the other way round. In a number of these countries, the masses (who spend a fair amount of airtime and money on their mobile devices) use internet-enabled mobile phones, not smartphones. This probably won’t dramatically change for a while. But even if this was set to change in two years it still hasn’t changed today and it wont in the next 12 months.

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