Smartphones Sales Finally Overtake Feature Phones: 10 Reasons Why

By Don Reisinger  |  Posted 2013-08-15 Print this article Print

For the first time ever, smartphones outsold feature phones in the second quarter, according to research firm Gartner. During that period, 225 million smartphones were sold, representing a 46.5 percent gain over the same period last year. Feature phones, meanwhile, saw their sales drop by 21 percent year over year to land at 210 million units. Looking ahead, smartphones are expected to continue to outsell feature phones, and the gap between them should only grow larger. But exactly how smartphones caught on so quickly over the past six years since Apple introduced the iPhone is an interesting question, though it's not that surprising that Apple, HTC, Motorola, Samsung and other mobile device makers keep finding ways to cram more new features and applications in handsets with touch-screens. The feature phones that most people were using a few years ago look pretty bare-bones by comparison. Take a look at this eWEEK slide show to find out why smartphone popularity is soaring and why feature phone sales are losing steam worldwide.

  • Smartphones Sales Finally Overtake Feature Phones: 10 Reasons Why

    By Don Reisinger
    0-Smartphones Sales Finally Overtake Feature Phones: 10 Reasons Why
  • Apple's iPhone Is a Huge Factor

    If not for the iPhone, it's entirely possible that the feature phones would still prevail as the best-selling class of mobile phones. But the Apple iPhone defined smartphone design when it hit the market in 2007. Since then mobile phone makers have rushed to try to match the iPhone for features and functionality.
    1-Apple's iPhone Is a Huge Factor
  • High-Quality Touch-Screens Matter

    Although some feature phones come with touch-screens these days, by and large, the best touch displays are found in smartphones. That makes sense. After all, smartphones cost more and deliver more features and applications. This means they also can deliver high profit margins. Naturally, device makers and mobile service providers are going to focus on products that deliver stronger margins. Customers have shown they are willing to pay extra for touch-screen functionality, and how can device maker resist that.
    2-High-Quality Touch-Screens Matter
  • Android's Popularity Is Soaring

    Android has been a huge change agent in most markets around the world. Google's operating system has been leveraged by hundreds of vendors worldwide and has allowed for the rapid expansion of smartphone market share. Android might be even more important to smartphone growth than the iPhone.
    3-Android's Popularity Is Soaring
  • Product Design Can't Be Forgotten

    Product design has been another major reason for the growth in smartphones. Over the last several years, smartphone makers have been delivering truly outstanding-looking products, and many consumers will jump at the chance to buy smartphones with the latest additions.
    4-Product Design Can't Be Forgotten
  • Feature Phone Makers Are Moving to Smartphones

    Quite a few companies that previously had bunches of success in the feature phone market are now devoting most of their resources to smartphones. Motorola and Nokia are perhaps two of the most obvious vendors in that category, but many more exist. Feature phones are simply becoming afterthoughts.
    5-Feature Phone Makers Are Moving to Smartphones
  • Blame It on the Enterprise

    Although the BlackBerry was popular in the enterprise long before the iPhone or Android was available, the corporate world has truly ramped up its smartphone adoption worldwide. If not for the enterprise's incessant need to improve productivity, feature phones wouldn't be so far behind.
    6-Blame It on the Enterprise
  • Wireless Networks Are a Major Contributor

    Carriers around the globe are embracing new wireless technologies at a rapid rate. Technologies such as 3G are ubiquitous, and 4G LTE is quickly being deployed across the world. Smartphones use those technologies to deliver Web service to device owners. Feature phones, meanwhile, do not. That's a major contributing factor for the smartphone's recent success.
    7-Wireless Networks Are a Major Contributor
  • Pop Culture Cannot Be Forgotten

    It would be a poor decision on the part of anyone evaluating the smartphone market to not acknowledge that culture and a desire to be "cool" both play a role in the success of smartphones. Nowadays, a smartphone, such as the iPhone, is in the hands of passersby everywhere. What's more, pop culture has evolved into a platform for technology industries to push smartphones as the must-have complements to any social event. Smartphones are, quite simply, cool. Feature phones? Not so much.
    8-Pop Culture Cannot Be Forgotten
  • Samsung's Broader Appeal

    Samsung has found a way to appeal to both feature phone buyers and smartphone purchasers. This has enabled the company to create a massive market in which it "graduates" its customers from feature phones to smartphones. Considering Samsung is the world's largest mobile device maker, that strategy has played an integral role in the success of smartphones.
    9-Samsung's Broader Appeal
  • Carriers Are Making the Push

    Try going into a mobile service provider's store and buying a feature phone these days. After about five minutes of searching for a feature phone, you'll be inundated by recommendations from salespeople saying that getting into the smartphone craze is the right move. The carriers are going where the money is, and they want nothing more than to sell as many smartphones as possible.
    10-Carriers Are Making the Push
  • Pricing Plays a Major Role

    Customers looking to get their hands on a smartphone don’t have to spend a lot of money. On the contrary, they can get their hands on a high-end device, like the iPhone 4, without putting any money up front for the hardware—as long as they can afford to pay for the two-year service contract that comes with it. Such deals effectively eliminates the price advantage feature phones once had and delivers an all-around better value proposition for smartphones. That makes customers who are on a budget jump at the chance to get into the smartphone market.
    11-Pricing Plays a Major Role
Don Reisinger is a freelance technology columnist. He started writing about technology for Ziff-Davis' Since then, he has written extremely popular columns for, Computerworld, InformationWeek, and others. He has appeared numerous times on national television to share his expertise with viewers. You can follow his every move at

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