Where did all of the feature phones go?

Anna Scantlin
Contributing Editor from  Kansas City, MO
| August 30, 2014


Today I was asked a question that I have not been asked in a very long time.


Well, actually, that’s not true. I am actually quite frequently asked, “Hey, I’m due for an upgrade. What phone should I get?” While I would normally go through all of the preliminary questions to figure out whether the questioning party would be better fit with an Android, iOS, BlackBerry, or Windows Phone device, I was quickly stopped and told, “Oh, no, I don’t mean phones like that. What about something simpler?” Simpler? Like... oh.


“You mean a flip phone?”

“Well, kind of. I like the one I have now. It has a keyboard.”

“Oh, so a feature phone? Or a messaging phone?”

“Yes! But nothing smart.”

“Well... let me get back to you on that.”


It was at that moment that I realized that I have been totally, completely out of the loop on anything less than smartphone over the past couple of years. I guess once you graduate from using a messaging phone you don’t really care about them so much anymore. You also forget that there are people in the world who would much rather use a messaging or feature phone. While I felt kind of stupid for momentarily forgetting they even existed, I quickly came to the realization that I wasn’t really the only one.


It would seem that basic phones - specifically feature phones - are quite the endangered species these days.


For a moment I was kind of relieved that I wasn't just forgetting them, but then I realized that it’s really kind of a bummer. There are still some benefits of using a basic phone over smartphones, and it’s a pity that the selections of basic phones are so abysmal these days. Out of all four major carriers in the U.S., Verizon Wireless is the carrier that offers the largest selection of basic phones - 7 phones, and only two of them could be described as feature or messaging phones. Sprint comes in at a close second with 6 phones, and again only offers two that serve as “messaging” phones. Flip phones are more available than messaging phones. AT&T made it very difficult to find the basic phones, so much so that I gave up even trying. T-Mobile only has one new flip phone available on its website amongst a sea of smartphones.


So why is that messaging phones have become so rare? I’ve always thought of them as a solid first step towards progressing to a smartphone, but I never realized that finding them these days was so hard. It’s almost like everybody is being pressured into owning a smartphone now, which I don’t think is right. I love smartphones, I think they’re awesome! But not everybody feels that way. It’s just strange to me that people have a larger selection of basic flip phones over the slightly more advanced feature phones; you’d think they would have a more unique selection to offer.


In the end, I was able to produce a list of feature phones for my friend that was a whopping 2 phones long. We had a small discussion about how he was surprised that the list was so small, because he remembered how 4 years ago he had a much harder time trying to decide what to get because there was several more to choose from. He still managed to be grateful that there was more than one option and he at least had a choice, but I can still understand his disappointment to a degree. I would never expect the amount of messaging or feature phones to match up to the massive amounts of smartphones we have coming out at this point in time, but I would like to think that people deserve to have more than just two to choose from - and that’s if they’re lucky.


I guess it’s smartphone or bust these days!


Images via CNet