A recent article in TechCrunch titled ”It’s Still A Feature Phone World: Global Smartphone Penetration At 27%” by Sarah Perez has highlighted the fact that mass-market feature phones are still and will remain the dominant mobile device across the globe for some time to come. (Note these figures are for new phone shipments. Existing install base of smartphones is actually only 18%). This is especially true in the emerging markets of Asia, Latin America, and Asia. The article was based on a report from Vision Mobile.
The article prompted many comments questioning this fact. And to counter these comments it is clear we view the world differently. In the developed world we need to increase our field of understanding and put ourselves in a different place. A place that is not surrounded by computers and high tech gadgets but a place where Maslow’s hierarchy of needs plays a greater influence, a place that just doesn’t care about Android, Apple, RIM or Symbian. It is about communicating. It is arguable that Maslow’s hierarchy can be adapted to include this overall human need to communicate. It is the same in the emerging markets as it has been in the developed market – a phone has become an essential item for talking, sending SMS and browsing the internet.
People in the emerging markets want to communicate with family and friends, they want to access the Internet and they do – in the millions. Many access it everyday, but not like developed economies on a computer but using their phone. Perhaps on a “crappy old” Nokia or a no-name brand in Africa. In India a person has a choice of one of 150 phone manufacturers.
Price is a major factor in the lack of smartphones for sure. But there are also other critical requirements.
- The standby life of a phone is a very important consideration. The “crappy old phone” can run for days between charges. When was the last time your Smartphone was attached to a power socket?
- The phones need to be robust to cope with the environment where humidity and dust can spell the end for an electrical device.
- Lastly, a major factor outside of major economic centres (and in some cases inside them too) the network infrastructure is just not there.
Here are some other statistics from other leading analyst companies:
- Ovum say Feature phones will still have 63% of mobile market share by 2016.
- In recent Gartner report – India accounts for 12% of device sales globally with smartphone sales making up only 6% in the first 3 quarters of 2011. This is expected to increase to 8% by the end of 2012.
- According to the GSMA – Africa has overtaken Latin America to become the second largest mobile market after Asia. By 2015, the total number of connections is estimated to reach 84% of the total African population.
- According to CISCO – GSM mobile data traffic is set to grow at 26 fold between 2010 and 2015 with the mobile-only Internet growing to 788 million by end of 2015.
To address the emerging markets, phones need to address the above considerations. Nokia is being bashed in the press for its smartphone initiatives however when it comes to mass-market feature phones they have invested significant resources in the design and manufacture of their devices to ensure they meet the toughest conditions. There is a reason why Nokia is still the number one choice in emerging markets. They make bloody good phones that last.
The bottom line is mass market feature phones are here to stay for the significant future, they will be re-cycled, reused and refurbished just like those Toyotas that run for ever across the Sahara.