Why 'Dumb' Feature Phones Could Make a Comeback Around the World

By Mike Elgan  |  Posted 2015-02-23 Print this article Print
Dumb Phones

There's an overarching sense that smartphones enable unknown companies, governments and criminals to invade privacy at will and there's really nothing anybody can do about it. Except get rid of the smartphone.

Just as the public followed the drug dealers on the use of first, pagers then later, smartphones, so they might follow them into the use of dumb phones.

Last month a rash of stories revealed that the phone of choice for drug dealers is becoming the Nokia 8210, which is a reliable dumb phone that first shipped in 1999.

Or maybe they'll be inspired by the character Saul Goodman in the TV series "Better Call Saul," who maintains a drawer full of burner phones, one for each client, as a way to break the chain of social connections revealed through meta-data harvesting.

Work-mandated smartphones

As the security problem grows, medium-sized companies and enterprises will return to the old idea of locked-down, company- issued smartphones as the only way to protect themselves from data theft, ransomware, phishing attacks and industrial espionage.

If the company has already given you a smartphone, a dumb phone might make more sense as a personal phone.

There's a retro, ironic hipness factor

With the ever-increasing banality of high-quality, high-end smartphones, the lure of retro phones will inevitably call to the hipsters among us, just as vinyl records have.

Trend-setter celebrities in multiple areas of public life have been spotted recently with dumb flip-phones, including Vogue Editor-in-Chief Anna Wintour; pop singer Rihanna; actress Scarlett Johansson; actress Kate Beckinsale; actor Robert Pattinson; New York Senator Chuck Schumer, and Colts quarterback Andrew Luck.

Extreme environments

People want to take their phones to the beach or sailing, or while running marathons or on safaris or while traveling all over the world. I personally have done all these and sometimes lost, broke or had my smartphones stolen while doing so.

While rugged smartphones exist, they tend to be much more expensive than the average smartphone, while rugged feature phones cost much less. Plus, a flip phone is far less likely than a fancy rugged smartphone to attract the interest of a thief in a dangerous part of the world.

One prime example is the Kyocera DuraXV, which is certified to meet Military Standard 810G and IP68 to resist dust, shock, extreme temperatures, water and more. It also has large, physical buttons designed to be used while wearing gloves such as for skiing or mountain climbing.

Other devices

Another reason is that other devices replace some of the smartphone's capabilities—small tablets, for example. While some users are coping with the similarity in size between big phones and small tablets by buying the biggest phone and getting rid of the tablet, others will go the other way—buy the tablet and buy the smallest dumb phone.

Another coming trend is the rise in either dumb phone or smartphone functionality in wearable devices. One such device is called the Neptune Duo, which houses extreme smartphone-like electronics in a wristwatch, enabling the phone to be dumb.

I'm not saying the Neptune Duo will succeed. But I am saying that the market will become more complex, with multiple options for smart devices and dumb phones that don't exist today.

For all these reasons, I believe the dumb phone will soon mount a come-back, and become one of the many options users have for making that calculation about their phones and how it fits into their overall lifestyle and gadget lineup.



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