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Dumbphones Are Making a Comeback With Younger People Who Want to Disconnect

Updated: Mar 25, 2022

It is a familiar sound from days gone by. The Nokia ringtone was emblematic of an era where what are now called “dumbphones” was what people had. Smartphone makers, social media platforms and app developers aim to catch people’s attention by keeping their eyes on their phones. However, younger people are turning to dumbphones, also known as feature phones, as a way to become more productive and less concerned with what appears on their news feeds.

Nokia 3310
The new Nokia 3310 (Credit: Isacc Smith/Unsplash)

The BBC reports that the market for dumbphones is a fast-growing one. They cited figures from Semrush saying that Google searches for dumbphones grew by 89% in the 2019-21 period. Moreover, a Counterpoint Research report from 2019 estimated that sales of feature phones would grow to a billion units by 2021, mostly driven by sales in markets such as India and parts of Africa. These markets largely have low-income customers for whom calling and texting might suffice for their needs. However, as there may not be recent aggregated global figures for dumbphone sales, it is difficult to assess how much the market has actually grown.

Websites devoted to mobile phones, however, give an idea of what makes feature phones so appealing. One guide to the best dumbphones on the market says that a key reason for buying one is what some users in the BBC piece also mentioned. A dumbphone helps one disconnect from the busy world of social media and, as that guide says, “take back [one’s] life”. The BBC article points out that a younger generation gets that message very clearly, citing things like TikTok videos where feature phones make frequent appearances.

These days, however, some feature phones may include features that might make it difficult to stay away from the social media environment. For instance, the Nokia 6300 4G touts the fact that it has WhatsApp, Facebook and YouTube access. The phone runs on an Android OS, thus blurring the lines between dumbphones and smartphones. Dumbphone purists need not fret, though. The Finnish phone maker has revived its classic 3310 model in 2017, a minimalist phone through and through. The only distraction may well be a new version of the Snake game.

Nokia is not the dominant force it was in the early days of feature phones, while it still sells well in the Western European and Southeast Asian markets. Other major companies in the market include Hong Kong-based Itel Mobile, which, like Nokia, also sells smartphones but has seen massive dumbphone sales growth thanks to the African market. It is telling that when one looks up their website, almost every African nation has a customized microsite available.

Finally, apart from the way feature phones allow people to go back to simpler mobile phone uses, there are three other appealing factors that these phones have. The first is that, unlike smartphones where battery life is a concern thanks mainly to apps running in the background, dumbphone battery life is generally longer. Secondly, it is hard to deny that a dumbphone is usually more durable. In the hopefully rare situation where one drops them, they are hard to break. The third one is simple: feature phones are cheaper than smartphones. One won’t break the bank upgrading or replacing phones when needed.

  • Dumbphones, or feature phones, are making a comeback among younger users who want to disconnect from the hectic and distracting way smartphones catch one’s attention.

  • Nokia and other manufacturers such as Itel Mobile are enjoying robust dumbphone sales in markets such as Western Europe, Southeast Asia and Africa.

  • Other appealing features that dumbphones have include better battery life, durability and price (compared to smartphones).

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