Feature Phones on the Web – Where Are They?

The thing we call a “phone” today, is also many other things. Needless to list everything here. Still, the base requirement for an object to be called a “phone”, is that you can dial a phone number and have a voice conversation with the person answering.

As time goes by, by “phone” we mean a device we can put in our pocket when we are on the move. A mobile phone.

Mobile phones, we used to devide into two categories. Feature phones and Smartphones.

Feature phones were those phones whose main purpose was to place phone calls and send text messages. Googling for images of a “feature phone”  pretty much define how we think a feature phone look; no querty, small screen, physical keyboard and so on.

The mobile phones that had more advanced functionality and hardware traits, were typically called Smartphones.

But nobody buys mobile phones with small screen, numeric keyboard and no touch screen anymore, right? Well, smartphone sales only surpassed feature phone sale globally last year. Smart phone penetration rate is actually quite low. The feature phone market is actually quite big and dominated by Nokia. (The big web players know this)

But… according to most of the analytics reports, stats, facts, charts and numbers feature phones does not use the web, right?!

Depends on how you see it. If Opera Mini is showing up in your stats, it’s propably a feature phone. Same with UCbrowser (in China mostly). This might be obvious.

However, if you see traffic from Android browsers, and maybe even Chrome, Safari and Webkit, a good chunk of this is most likely feature phones!

Thing is, a modern feature phone can be powered by an operating system we associate with smartphones, like Android.

For example Samsung G9098.  Also worth mentioning that what they call a feature phone in Japan, would qualify as a high end smartphone in western markets in terms of capabilities. Nokia X series  is also an interesting type of device. An Android powered smartphone-like device targeting the typical feature phone buyers. So, the Smartphone definition is a moving target. What is a smartphone today, is a less smart phone tomorrow. One could easily argur that the first iPhone is a feature phone by todays standards.

What does this mean for the web? For a starter, using the words “feature phone” and “web” in the same sentence is confusing. As time goes by, everything gets better. Even the feature phones. Still, for web browsing the diversity of devices, capabilities, interaction models, form factors and usage will always be! If we define a feature phone as a “less capable phone” relatively speaking, these devices are definitely visiting your site. They may be hidden in your stats behind “Android” or other “smartphone related” terms and stats.

One one side, it does not make sense to talk about “feature phones” versus “smartphones” on the web anymore. On the other side, the “smartphones” visiting your site are probably not as smart as you think.

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