If you’re like me, you adore your smartphone. I have an iPhone. My wife has an Android. We’re still in love. The battle in tech media pits smartphone OS vs. smartphone OS. Or more accurately, iPhone vs. Smartphone X. The landscape has now shifted even further. (Almost) Exit Blackberry. Enter Windows Mobile. Nokia just announced it sold 2 million Windows phones in Q1 2012. Bottom line: The focus is always on the smartphone.

Truth: Dumbphones (feature phones as they’re better known) might be the ugly cousin you ignore at the high school dance, but she’s not going anywhere yet. And just like life after high school, the regular ducks outnumber the beautiful swans. Ignoring them might be easy in the hallways of Snooty High but the tables will turn and these people you once wrote off as losers could soon be your bosses and will most certainly be your customers. End analogy.

Can you afford to alienate almost 50% of customers because of the phones they choose to carry? According to data presented in a Business Insider slideshow, The Future of Mobile, we’re looking at 5.6 billion dumbphone users vs. 835 million smartphone users globally:

Global Smartphone vs. Dumbphone Subscribers 2011 data


That is now. But…make no mistake, the dumbphone conversion to smartphones is happening, with the US ahead of the game. As AT&T is set to sell the Lumia 900 smartphone for a competitive $99, that puts smartphones within reach of the average consumer.

Smartphone Ownership data 2011


It will still be a few years before the rest of the world hits the conversion point.

Global Smartphone Penetration Forecast 2011


And how much longer until everyone owns a smartphone and dumbphones are phased out? Well, based on where the above graph ends, it looks like close to a decade. And this assumes a lot of variables, like dumbphones remaining dumb.

Here’s what a lot of the analysts are failing to take into consideration: dumbphones are fighting back and are a lot smarter than just a couple of years ago. Take a look at Qualcomm’s Brew MP platform, not only are there app stores, but phones have smartphonesque type functionality such as GPS location, bar scanners, 3D games, mobile broadband and more. In fact, Brew devices represent over 40% of the feature phone market in the U.S according to figures based on three-month average ending Oct 2011 from comScore MobiLens. In addition, J2ME features phones are coming in smarter shapes with large touch screens, etc. We’ll touch more on how dumb phones are smartening up in a follow-up post. If you thought the smartphone market was fragmented now, expect even further fragmentation as feature phones grow smarter.

The bottom line? The lines between smart and dumb phones are getting blurry so until The Promised Land arrives and we see everyone through rose-colored glasses, or in this case, large swipeable screens with all the bells & whistles, your clubhouse doors had better be open to all because cash is cash, regardless of who it comes from. And only a fool waves away that much cash on the basis of a label alone.


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Filed under: Mobile Marketing

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