Why 'dumb phones' are back in fashion

Why ‘dumb phones’ are back in fashion

In Israel, at the beginning of 2022, imports of dumb phones, literally “stupid phones”, of the Nokia brand had registered a 200% increase in sales compared to the previous year. In France, in 2021, 18% of people equipped with a mobile had chosen it as not smart. In the UK, one in ten phone users have chosen a “feature phone”, the other name for these mobile phones that are only used to make calls…

Several ways can explain this movement: low cost of purchase, robustness, desire to move away from screens after a pandemic that has led many to live online… But the market for dumb phones took an upward slope, just before the health crisis linked to Covid-19: from 400 million units in 2019, it had almost doubled in 2020, with 735 million sales worldwide. A Counterpoint study predicted 1 billion sales by 2021, which seems consistent with currently available figures: Statista estimates the size of the market in value terms at €9.52 billion in 2022.

Nostalgia and the search for disconnection

Since its replacement by smartphones, the first notable peak of passion for classic phones dates back to 2017. That year, Nokia launched a new version of its famous 3310, with a T9 keyboard, a slightly larger screen than in the early 2000s, removable battery… and Snake, of course. Nostalgia for the pre-iPhone and Android era is in full swing: Google searches for phones without internet are on the rise. After all, the Finnish manufacturer was already trying to tap into consumers’ desire for “digital detox”: in 2016, a study showed that 90% of smartphone owners fell victim to the phenomenon of phantom vibrations, which makes them believe that their phone vibrates. without reason.

Since then, the problem has only grown: On average, in 2021, humans spent 4 hours and 48 minutes on their phones every day. So the device deals that prevent parchment (refreshing your networks without stopping, even if it makes you feel bad) have multiplied, sometimes for prices quite close to those of smartphones. Design and minimalist, the Light Phone is sold for 300 euros. The Punkt MP02, which doesn’t even offer GPS but does have a note-taking app, is available for €329. What interest does it have for the 21% of French people who declare themselves unable to do without their telephone? I’m not sure, illustrates the youtuber Cyrus North, because switching to an offline tool can create new problems: slow down online purchases, for example, while more and more banks use their mobile applications to authenticate the Internet user. And then the time we spend on smartphones isn’t so much about the phone as it is about what we’re doing there: hanging out on networks or apps that are mostly fully accessible from a computer.

Accessibility, monitoring… ecology?

No, the real reason for the increase in sales of feature phones it is elsewhere: in its very low price. We’ve mentioned the more “premium” deals, which are a bit cartoonish, but most of these items are available at low prices. A model like the Nokia 150, for example, is sold at 25 euros, a more suitable price for populations in developing countries than that of smartphones. This explains why market growth is overwhelmingly driven by Africa, the Middle East and Asia. Contrary to western problems, feature phones In some cases, they even become their users’ first access to the Internet: In India, the Reliance Jiio company builds “smart smartphones” that give access to apps tailored to phones with low memory.

An opposing concern is that of security. In Israel, the purchase of unconnected phones soared in the wake of the Pegasus affair, named for the spyware found on the phones of ministers, activists and journalists around the world. This jump could be explained by the absence of networks such as WhatsApp, Facebook or Instagram, known to collect user data for advertising purposes, suggests the Times of Israel. But SMS, the only means of written communication from a basic phone, is far from being known for its security.

The last argument that probably explains the renewed interest in these objects is the environmental one. not only the feature phones they are stronger than smartphones: didn’t we talk about “fridge” twenty years ago? But its battery life is much longer, which is particularly useful in areas where electricity supply is uncertain. In short, while still a very small minority in the global mobile phone market, the dumb phone seems to be the ideal candidate for anyone who wants a tool that is easy to use, doesn’t distract from notifications, is affordable, and is durable.

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