‘Dumb phones’ that cost $25 to overtake top smartphone brands in developing countries, report claims


‘Dumb phones’ make a comeback: $25 hybrid feature handsets with basic internet capabilities will overtake top smartphone brands in parts of the world, report claims

  • ‘Dumb’ phones have become popular in developing countries across the world
  • The pared down devices, called ‘smart feature phones’ are cheap and capable
  • Phones lack functionality but can call, text, and use major apps like YouTube
  • Analysts say in next three years, the market could reach $28 billion in sales 

The future of mobile phones in much of the world will look a lot like devices of the recent past, according to a new report.

As millions of users come online across the world in India and Africa, ‘dumb phones’ — as opposed to the hyper-connected and increasingly sophisticated smart phones — have found a burgeoning new market.

The Wall Street Journal reports that the pared down devices, which look similar to mobile phones of yore from Motorola and Nokia, have become particularly popular due to their accessible price point — some of them sell for about $25 — and their cheap access to unlimited data.

‘Dumb phones’ are becoming a burgeoning industry in the developing world with good price points and data.


Smart ‘feature phones,’ also known as dumb phones, are a class of phones with limited capabilities comped to smart phones. 

The devices often use a physical keyboard as opposed to a touchscreen and are far cheaper than their smart counterparts. 

Feature phones are popular among users in developing countries and tout longer battery life and cheap unlimited data. 

While the devices don’t offer the same functionality as their bigger and more expensive smart phone counterparts, they offer users some benefits in addition to the basic calling and texting.

‘Smart feature phones’ as they’re known give users access to many apps, which may include YouTube, Facebook, and WhatsApp — the latter of which recently tweaked their platform to be accessible via the style of device according to WSJ.

The phone’s also boast longer battery life — lasting for days at a time depending on the user and device — and are often operated via a physical keyboard as opposed to a touchscreen, making the technology easier to use among those not accustomed to interfacing with smart devices. 

According to WSJ, around 84 million of the smart feature phones are expected to be shipped this year.

The phones have proven to be popular among residents in countries who earn the least amount of money annually according to WSJ.

One user interviewed in the report, Kamlesh Kumar, a 35-year-old New Delhi resident who makes $80 per month selling fruit, said phones offered through mobile carrier Jio were among the only ones he could afford. 

The only $2.50 per month Kumar is able to use all of the data he wants notes WSJ. 

According to Business Standard, one of the largest Indian-English newspapers, Kumar is likely not alone. In 2013, the median annual income per capita was about $616 per person. 

Feature phones like those made by Nokia look more like cell phones of yesterday, with physical keyboards and somewhat limited internet access.

The phone's are popular in the developing world among people who can't afford smart phones and expensive data plans.

Feature phones like thos made by Nokia look more like cell phones of yesterday, with physical keyboards and somewhat limited internet access.

As internet access continues to spread to people in formerly disconnected regions of the world, smart feature phones are slated to become a lucrative sector of the tech industry.

According to the research firm Counterpoint, throughout the next three years, almost 370 million smart feature phones are expected to be sold globally, representing $28 billion in potential sales.

The opportunity has even caught the attention of Google which invested $22 million into KaiOS, which makes the operating systems behind many of the phones. 

Smart phones may still dominate the market, with well more than a billion units sold across the world last year, but even those outside of the developing world have seen the appeal.

Gadgets like The Light Phone have piqued the interest of many looking to ween their reliance on the internet, offering a stripped own device that can call, text, play music and a few other key features that don’t include full computer capabilities. 


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