Smartphones are all the rage these days, but what about the underestimated dumbphone market? By the way, when I say ‘dumbphone’ I’m referring to general cellphones that aren’t classified as ‘smartphones’. The quasi-official classification is really ‘feature phone’ but ‘dumbphone’ is becoming more common and distinguishes it better in my opinion.
A lot of people won’t get on the smartphone market anytime soon. Price is a heavy factor. Devices themselves cost a lot, even when subsidized by 2-year contracts. Add on the required data plans too. The apps and games are very enticing, and you buy those too. Not to mention a protecting case and other accessories as well. So a smartphone can be a heavy investment.
Not everyone feels the need for a smartphone. It’s nice to have, sure. But is it necessary? Many people can get by perfectly well on a regular cellphone. They don’t feel compelled to switch after analyzing the benefits over the costs. Many people, like myself, can make do with a cheap dumbphone for basic phone & text functionality, and get by with a laptop/tablet on free WiFi for full Internet access, a dedicated portable media player, and a dedicated digital camera that all do their jobs better.
According to Nielsen, dumbphones still rule the market at 60% usage in the United States as of September 1, 2011. Yes, smartphone growth has been rapid, but is that a surprise when most dumbphones look pretty pathetic?
So why Microsoft? I like Microsoft software. Windows Phone is a very good smartphone OS, and I think if they could create a light version of it, it may take the dumbphone market by storm. Now you might point out that Microsoft’s brief history with the Kin in 2010 shows that Microsoft is incapable of producing a good dumbphone, or the market rejects a mid-level phone somewhere between a dumbphone and smartphone. I disagree. If you want to bother reading through my Kin assessment, here’s the link.
The gist is that the Kin wasn’t just a failure; it’s an important lesson about trying to change the dumbphone market with half-baked implementation, poor niche marketing, and missing necessities. Microsoft can learn from its mistakes and try again, having had the experience. I know I’m not an expert, but when many experts and critics are sharing the same view, I think that speaks for itself that some of the the stuff with the Kin could have been easily avoided with better development and ensuring the launch was at least a safe product rather than something that was bound to flop.
Getting into the dumbphone market is also a good idea, because it’s a starter phone for many people. Making the user experience and design similar to Windows Phone might encourage them to adopt Windows Phone as their smartphone when they’re ready. Or at least use more Microsoft services like Bing and Zune or Xbox. As well as in developing markets like Africa and Asia. Considering how Windows Phone runs well on lighter resources, perhaps they could accomplish something similar on even lesser hardware specs that dumbphones have.
Apps are something that dumbphone users will still want. Some might say having a smartphone OS and a dumbphone OS will mean ‘fragmentation’ for developers and users. I find that the market for both of them are completely different. Dumbphones will continue to have lower hardware specs to make them affordable, and thus any app will not reach the level of complexity as they would on a smartphone. It may be easier to code for a dumbphone OS as well, and hopefully MS could provide a very good SDK so developers can make the most they can out of a dumbphone. Or there maybe a limited official app selection like Microsoft has had for the Zune players.
This dumbphone OS should be licensed to OEMs with fairly good minimum requirements to ensure the integrity of the OS would work well enough, but obviously the specs won’t match the ones required by Windows Phone. Microsoft can also take advantage of their strong partnership with Nokia to get the ball rolling.
In my next post, I’ll go in depth of what I’d think a basic dumphone OS from Microsoft would be like and look like.