Will manufacturers stop making feature and messaging phones?

Taylor Martin
 from Concord, NC
Published: September 5, 2011

Smartphones are taking over the world. No, really. Walk into a carrier store an look for a non-smartphone. It might take you a minute or two to actually find one. Yeah, they're in the back with a handful of Windows Phone 7 devices. That? No, I'm sorry. That's a smartphone. Yes, a smartphone. The others are over there, behind the cobwebs. Do you need a flashlight?

This whole smartphone race started way back in the day with BlackBerry, Palm and Windows Mobile, mainly targeting business professionals. But the iPhone was a catalyst that launched the entire market into hyperspeed and unexpectedly included the average consumer in the entire deal. Other OEMs have since entered and left the scene and we're leaps and bounds from where we used to be – most phones now have large displays, great cameras, ample memory, pitiful battery life, etc. Wireless data is taking precedence over calling and text messaging plans; and everything is now about sheer speed and performance.

A few years ago, feature and messaging phones were the main focus of wireless providers. The QWERTY keyboards catered to the needs of heavy texters and the larger screens made the phones a little more useful than the run-of-the-mill flip phone. Customers weren't forced to use data and all was well in the world.

But since the smartphone came into the limelight, carriers have implemented minimum charges that force users with anything but a flip phone to pay some sort of data fee (unless grandfathered, of course). To be honest, it's not even worth the fee. Paying $10 for “HTML data” is worse than that dial-up connection you have at home because it's $5 cheaper than high-speed Internet. In short, carriers are making it as unattractive as possible for buyers to take the less expensive messaging phone route, in favor of more expensive, more powerful smartphones.

Carriers, however, are not the only ones who have learned that the smartphone business is much more lucrative. Manufacturers have, too. Thanks to Android, some of the last OEMs you would expect to jump on the smartphone bandwagon are finally doing just that, namely Pantech, Casio and Sharp. Not only are they now making smartphones, they're blurring the lines between the two phone classes by manufacturing low-end smartphones with custom Android interfaces that mimic feature phones, and vice versa.

Flip phones will likely remain an option for years to come, simply for the people who do not care to do anything beyond calling with their phone. But with carriers putting so much pressure on customers to buy smartphones, I figure it's only a matter of time before OEMs give up on messaging phones entirely. They can scrap initiatives in creating their own proprietary software and simply theme the ready-made Android, and they can purchase pre-fabricated components from makers like Qualcomm, NVIDIA and many others to minimize efforts in the individual creation of each phone.

As the market traverses from smart to superphones, low-end smartphones will ultimately take the place of messaging phones. And with tiered data plans becoming more popular, owning a smartphone will eventually be no more expensive than a less functional feature phone. The marketability of messaging phones is being killed off by wireless providers and their expiration date is quickly approaching.

Are you still a feature phone user that hasn't made the smartphone jump due to price? Would you consider buying a smartphone if feature or messaging phones were no longer an option? Or would you regress back to a flip phone?

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