Tech

‘Old phones’ make comeback, threatening iPhone and others

'Old phones' make comeback, threatening iPhone and others

Smartphones of all kinds are facing stiff competition from an unlikely new challenger: the old feature phones.

With simple handsets and small screens intended mostly for calls and text messages — similar to the Nokia or Motorola you probably owned years ago — a new generation of feature phones is suddenly looking like a threat to Apple and its rivals.

For a technology long ago left for dead, feature phones have lately made some impressive gains.

After years of almost continuous decline, global shipments have grown for two consecutive quarters.

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Growth in emerging markets has been especially impressive: In Africa, feature-phone shipments surged 32 percent year-over-year in the second quarter of 2016, compared to a decline of 5.2 percent for smartphones as the trend will continue for obvious reasons.

One obvious advantage is price. At the end of 2016, the average global price of a smartphone was $256, compared to $19.30 for a feature phone. That doesn’t leave much in the way of consumer choice. But even if a buyer has $256 to spare, the booming secondhand market offers far better options than a smartphone.

Another factor is battery life. In many emerging markets, where electricity service can be intermittent, smartphones that have to be recharged each day can’t compete against feature phones that can now go for weeks on a single charge.

In West Africa, it’s the rare smartphone owner who doesn’t also carry a feature phone (or two smartphones) as a hedge against missing calls and messages due to battery depletion.

 

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