There’s little evidence that dumb phones are resurging

Retro gadgets are hot right now, but not necessarily those tied to monthly fees.

nokia, dumb phones

Dumb Phones:

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There’s absurd and then there’s absurd. And then there is the supposed resurgence of dumb phones.

In my latest column for The National, I delve into why the new Nokia and BlackBerry phones – announced this weekend at the annual Mobile World Congress in Barcelona – are bad ideas.

In both cases, the devices – the Nokia 3310 and BlackBerry KeyOne – are first splashes from new interlopers in the cellphone business. Finland’s HMD is trying to rejuvenate the licensed Nokia brand, while China’s TCL is trying to gain traction by trading on BlackBerry’s former star status.

The KeyOne is a curious effort because of its keyboard, a BlackBerry trademark. With BlackBerry recently hitting virtually zero global market share, it’s a wonder why anyone would want to release a keyboard device when consumers have so very clearly decided against them.

The Nokia 3310 is more perplexing since it’s very purposely a “dumb” phone. Its camera has only two megapixels, it runs on 2.5G speeds and it’s basically devoid of apps.

HMD, the mysterious Finnish company behind the retro phone, is hoping to capitalize on people’s desire to go back to a simpler time, when having a phone didn’t require software updates or expose you to social media password demands at borders.

The idea makes sense in theory, but not in practice. Sure, the 3310 will only cost $50 (U.S.) when it’s released in the spring, which almost makes it a tempting impulse buy, but does anyone really want to go back to a time before smartphones?

There’s scant evidence that this is the case. Market analysis firm MM Research Institute reported back in 2015 that dumb phones saw a brief sales blip in Japan, rising 5.7 per cent in 2014 as smartphone shipments dipped 5.3 per cent, but there’s been little similar news since.

Indeed, MM Research pointed out that 2014 “was a particularly strong year for renewals in the subscription cycle for flip-phones,” which suggested that the surprise resurgence may not recur.

Retro gadgets are indeed experiencing some cachet right now – Nintendo’s NES Classic Edition was a hot Christmas gift, for example. But the trend isn’t likely to apply to phones for one key reason: regardless of capability, they still require a monthly fee to operate.

And if you’re going to pay a pricey monthly cellphone bill, do you really want to do as little as possible with your device? That’s completely counter-intuitive, which is why dumb phones are a trend that isn’t.

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3 Comments on There’s little evidence that dumb phones are resurging

  1. Peter,

    You are confusing BBOS’s market share with Blackberry’s market share. Blackberry mostly sells Android phones now, so it’s no surprise that their old OS is near 0% market share.

    Engaget made the same mistake in the linked article: they show a picture of a Priv, which is an Android phone, not a BBOS phone.

    • Peter Nowak // March 2, 2017 at 9:25 am // Reply

      With the Priv selling very poorly and little fanfare regarding follow-ups like the DTek60, it’s a safe bet that BlackBerry’s share of the Android market is close to zero as well.

  2. How about those of us who never have switched to smartphones and don’t intend to? Too expensive to acquire, too expensive to “feed”, too fragile, too big to be a phone, too small (entirely!) to be a usable computing device, and too short a battery life. No thank you.

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