Will feature and messaging phones eventually die out?

Taylor Martin
 from Concord, NC
Published: June 6, 2011

The cell phone market is both fast-paced and volatile. Things are constantly changing and new tech is always being introduced. We've seen companies rise and fall in a matter of years ... and even months in some cases, operating systems that make tablets more like desktops and 3D phones are just around the corner.  Something we have yet to see though, is the extinction of a particular style of phone.

Looking back just six years ago, feature and messaging phones were all that were widely available. But smartphones had just started entering the scene. There has always been a fine line between these two categories: smartphones were easily capable of sending and receiving emails, browsing the Internet, running applications and much more, while feature phones were primarily meant to make calls, take (poor) pictures, and send SMS and MMS messages. More recently, however, the feature phone has slightly adapted to the communication era. Carriers have created feature phone-specific data plans, allowing users with feature phones to (painfully) browse the Internet – mainly for social media like Facebook or Twitter.

For a while, this seemed to work. But in light of all of the new technology and ever-evolving mobile operating systems, feature phones have quickly taken a back seat to the more functional and more desired smartphones. The question is, will they eventually die out ... for good?

Initially, I have to say no. Just like the basic flip phone has stuck around, the messaging phone will, too. Being "middle tech" with limited marketability, these phones have simply become a way to save a few pennies instead of splurging for that smartphone. They still have a target demographic: teens who are on their parents' plan and adults who don't care to pay extra for data. This alone will keep the feature phone alive for several years.

But wireless providers have quickly learned that smartphones can be much more lucrative than their predecessors by making relatively expensive data plans mandatory. Ever since the popularization of the smartphone, both manufacturers and carriers have put less focus on feature phones, turning that extra attention to Android, BlackBerry, the iPhone, etc. As a side-effect, build quality, durability and even specifications of messaging phones have taken a turn for the worse.

Like I said before, feature phones attempted to bridge the gap between a basic phone and smartphones. With this added functionality, carriers have felt the need to implement a minimum data requirement for all multimedia phones. Pairing this with the fact that most carriers are moving toward tiered data for smartphones effectively makes messaging phones more of a nuisance and smartphones a more viable option for the money customers are required to pay each month. You can get a higher quality smartphone with a smaller data package – that you can actually use – for what you could get a messaging phone with its required package.

Even still, I highly doubt messaging phones will completely disappear anytime soon. They will continue to be made simply to keep the technology alive for those who still refute smartphones. That said, carriers will continue to make it harder for users who don't want to adopt the new tech by requiring data plans on devices that aren't optimized for data use in the first place and rehashing the exact same phones with different names time and time again.

It's pretty obvious that carriers are playing hardball, trying to entice customers to upgrade to a smartphone. Will it work? Will feature/messaging/multimedia phones eventually die out for good? Or will they stick around only for carriers make them completely and entirely undesirable amongst the ever-popular smartphones?