Feature phone is a term typically used as a retronym to describe a class of . Feature phones tend to use a proprietary, custom-designed software and user interface, and lack the capabilities of . Feature phones typically provide voice calling and text messaging functionality, in addition to basic multimedia and Internet capabilities, and other services offered by the user's wireless service provider. Feature phones have a backlit LCD screen and micro USB port and may have a physical keyboard, a microphone, SD card slot, a rear-facing camera to record video and capture pictures; and GPS. Some feature phones include a rudimentary app store that include basic software such as Mobile game, calendar and calculator programs.
Depending on extent of functionality, feature phones may have many of the capabilities of a smartphone, within certain cases. For example, today's feature phones typically serve as a portable media player, and can have digital cameras, GPS navigation, Wi-Fi and mobile broadband internet access, and mobile gaming through discrete apps. However, feature phones have weak batteries and processors and therefore, video games are rudimentary. , , and loudspeaker are usually of very low quality.
A feature phone's low price entails both disposability and low value; uses include having them as a burner phone, party device, or a device for children. A well-designed feature phone can be used in industrial environments and the outdoors, at workplaces that proscribe dedicated cameras, and as an emergency telephone. Several models are equipped with hardware functions — such as FM radio and flashlight — that prevent the device from becoming useless in the event of a major disaster, or entirely obsolete, if and when 2G network infrastructure is shut down. Other feature phones are specifically designed for the elderly, and yet others for Kosher phone.
Despite the introduction of smartphones in the mid-1990s, ignited with the August 1994 release of the IBM Simon, Nokia Communicator from 1996 on, and the BlackBerry line of handheld personal digital assistants from Research in Motion, feature phones enjoyed unchallenged popularity into the mid 2000s. In North America, smartphones, such as Palm and BlackBerry, were still considered a niche category for enterprise use. Outside North America, Nokia's Symbian devices had captured the smartphone market, in which price was the only barrier to entry, and Nokia offered smartphones across all feasible price segments. In the mid-2000s, phone makers such as Nokia and Motorola enjoyed record sales of feature phones. In developed economies, fashion and brand drove sales, as markets had matured and people moved to their second and third phones. In the U.S., technological innovation with regard to expanded functionality was a secondary consideration, as phone designs there centered on miniaturisation.
However, consumer-oriented smartphones such as the iPhone and those running Android fundamentally changed the market, with Steve Jobs proclaiming in 2007 that "the phone was not just a communication tool but a way of life". Existing feature-phone operating systems at the time, such as Symbian, were not designed to handle additional tasks beyond communication and basic functions, did not emphasis application developers much, and due to infighting among manufacturers as well as the complex bureaucracy and bloatness of the OS, they never developed a thriving ecosystem like Apple's App Store or Google Android's Google Play. By contrast, iPhone OS (renamed iOS in 2010) and Android were designed as a robust OS, embracing third-party apps, and having capabilities such as multitasking and graphics in order to meet future consumer demands.
There has been an industry shift from feature phones (including low-end smartphones), which rely mainly on volume sales, to high-end flagship smartphones which also enjoy higher margins, thus manufacturers find high-end smartphones much more lucrative than feature phones. For instance Apple Inc.'s operating margins from the iPhone remain high since these devices have always been sold to carriers at a high enough cost which compels carriers to get wireless customers to sign multiyear contracts. The shift away from feature phones has forced wireless carriers to increase subsidies of handsets, and the high selling-prices of flagship smartphones have had a negative effect on the wireless carriers (AT&T Mobility, Verizon, and Sprint), who have seen their EBITDA service-margins drop as they sold more smartphones and fewer feature phones. Trends have shown that consumers are willing to pay more for smartphones that deliver more features/applications such as 4G LTE and touchscreens, and smartphones have become a part of North American pop-culture (while feature phones are no longer "cool"). Though smartphones cost more to produce, they deliver higher profit-margins than feature phones, thus device makers and wireless carriers have shifted towards smartphones.
In 2007, Apple introduced the groundbreaking iPhone and by 2009, the iPhone and Google Android shifted the smartphone focus from the enterprise to mass market consumers (at the expense of business-oriented operating systems such as Windows Mobile and BlackBerry). As a result, smartphones have enjoyed the largest selection and advertising among carriers, who are devoting less and less store space and marketing to feature phones.
In 2011, feature phones accounted for 60 percent of the mobile telephones in the United States and 70 percent of mobile phones sold worldwide. According to Gartner in Q2 2013, 225 million smartphones were sold which represented a 46.5 percent gain over the same period in 2012, while 201 million feature phones were sold which was a decrease of 21 percent year over year, the first time that smartphones have outsold feature phones. Smartphones accounted for 51.8 percent of mobile phone sales in the second quarter of 2013, resulting in smartphone sales surpassing feature phone sales for the first time.
A survey of 4,001 Canadians by Media Technology Monitor in fall 2012 suggested about 83 per cent of the anglophone population owned a cellphone, up from 80 per cent in 2011 and 74 per cent in 2010. About two thirds of the mobile phone owners polled said they had a smartphone and the other third had feature phones or non-smartphones. According to MTM, non-smartphone users are more likely to be female, older, have a lower income, live in a small community and have less education. The survey found that smartphone owners tend to be male, younger, live in a high-income household with children in the home, and residents of a community of one million or more people. Students also ranked high among smartphone owners.
At around the same time, Google was developing its Android operating system as a direct competitor to Nokia's Symbian and Microsoft's Windows Mobile operating systems. The iPhone's success lead to the company, led by Larry Page, turning its methodology around, and Android as an open-source software platform for mobile phones was announced in November 2007 together with the founding of the Open Handset Alliance, and the first Android smartphone, the HTC Dream, was released in October 2008 in the US. Google would go on to launch its Google Nexus line of smart devices and collaborate with various original equipment manufacturers, including popular feature phone manufacturers Samsung, LG, Sony, and Motorola, to adapt Android for devices of varying form factors and computing platforms.
Motorola had stayed too long with its aging Motorola Razr flip phone and missed consumer trends for touchscreens and enhanced multimedia. Nokia and Research in Motion's attempts to implement some of the new capabilities from iPhone and Android to their existing proprietary firmware platforms was mixed, as these earlier operating systems were designed in mind to handle these intensive applications. Nonetheless as the iPhone was initially too expensive for mass market adoption, Nokia and Research in Motion did enjoy expanded sales as their offerings were considered a lower-priced alternative.
By the turn of the decade, iOS and Android, together with less-common platforms such as BlackBerry 10 and Windows Phone, had shifted the smartphone focus from being a niche to mass market consumers. Feature phones were primarily designed as communication devices, and manufacturers had, up to that point, been enjoying record sales of cell phones based more on fashion and brand, rather than technological innovation. Though smartphones cost more to produce, they were delivering higher profit margins than feature phones, leading to manufacturers and wireless carriers shifting towards smartphones. As a result, smartphones now have the largest selection and advertising among carriers, which devoted less and less store space and marketing to feature phones. In 2013, smartphones outsold feature phones for the first time, accounting for 51.8% of mobile phone sales in the second quarter of that year.
In an effort to provide parity with smartphones, modern feature phones have also incorporated support for 3G and even 4G connectivity, multi-touch screens of varying sizes, various sensors ranging from and GPS to Bluetooth and NFC, plus access to popular social networking services. However, their functionality and support for third-party apps or via an app store or other online distribution platform are still relatively limited in comparison to smartphones.
Nokia has developed the Series 30 and Series 40 software platform and application user interfaces which run the Nokia Asha platform.
MediaTeK has developed an embedded real-time operating system Nucleus RTOS, MAUI Runtime Environment.
Tizen Association (formerly LiMo Foundation) has developed a Linux-based LiMo Platform for smartphones.
Smarterphone has developed Smarterphone, a full operating system designed for feature phones. The first release was in 2008.