Why Millions Of People Are Still Buying Dumb Phones

Smartphone use is on the rise, but guess what? You’re flip phone from the 90s and 00s is far from dead; in fact, “dumb phone” are still a fairly lucrative market.

Whether it’s a dumb phone, a feature phone or a flip phone, it may seem odd for those of us accustomed to iPhone luxury that there’d be demand for anything but.

When you look at the cellular market from a global perspective, most people are still using dumb phones in spite of the smartphone revolution. To be exact, 590 million will be bought this year.

There are plenty of reasons people are still buying the device – and tech companies are taking notice. Here’s a look at who is buying dumb phones, and why.

1. Celebrities

Celebrities including Rihanna, Anna Wintour and Scarlett Johansson have been spotted with retro flip phones. The trend has been in part attributed to the 2014 mass hacking of celebrity women’s private photos.

Security concerns over just such possibilities make dumb phones all the more attractive, to not just stars, but anyone paranoid about smartphone security. But durability, cost effectiveness, and the ability to hang up with an attitude could be part of it too.

2. Hipsters

Out-of-rotation vintage dumb phones have found a new and fairly lucrative market for people in the 25  to 35 age range, typically the offbeat and retro type eager to reject the mainstream in favor of simpler technology.

Considering the millennial generation grew up with this type of cell phone, nostalgia may also play a part in their continued use. Some are even willing to buy rarer, limited edition models for over $1,300 as a status symbol.

3. First world kids

Other customers for dumb phones are those getting their first phones. According to Microsoft, these brand-new buyers (or receivers) include children in wealthier countries. Presumably, giving your clumsy 10 year old a flip phone is pretty wise: they’re durable, smaller, and have limited access to the big scary Internet.

4. Second-phoners

People who travel a lot, or simply need an extra device that won’t guzzle data or battery often buy dumb phones as a second phone. This group actually accounts for more than a quarter of Nokia’s feature phone buyers, and is especially common in Europe.

Other reasons you might need a second phone? If you’re sneaky, or perhaps a criminal.

5. Old people

Some people just aren’t down with the g-mailing, snapping, gramming and tweeting via mobile, and probably never will be. Older people especially tend to fall comfortably into this crowd, though there are certainly others wholly uncommitted to the constant connectivity and consumption smartphones emphatically encourage.

6. Third-worlders

Lastly, and most significantly, while those in western countries have the luxury to choose if their phone is smart of dumb, many don’t have that luxury.

Companies like Facebook are clamouring to get this sizable demographic (called the rising billion) online ASAP, but until then, hundreds of millions in Africa, India, China, and Latin America are expected to get their first phones over the next decade.

And much like the first-phone western kids, these phones will likely be simple feature phones.

What it all means

The market for dumb phones is still shrinking, but it’s far from gone. Companies like Microsoft are taking notice of this, as is evidenced by its release of a $20 Nokia phone aimed at developing consumers. Facebook, too, is offering alternative services for dumb phones.

Then there’s projects like the Light Phone, born of Google think tanks: a new and attractive dumb phone for those that want to be momentarily released from the bondage our app-tastic, iPhone overlords.

All in all, given the range of users, maybe dumb phones aren’t so dumb after all.

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Jennifer Markert