Feature phone is a term typically used as a retronym to describe a class of handheld computers. 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 low-quality microphone, microSD card slot, a rear-facing low-quality camera to record video and capture pictures; and GPS. If advanced enough, feature phones will sometimes include a rudimentary app store that will include basic software such as simple or a calculator program.
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 are 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. Other feature phones are specifically designed for the elderly, and yet others for Kosher phone.
In emerging markets, a feature phone remains the primary means of communication for many. 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.
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 early 2000s.
Feature phones were typically mid-range devices, between basic phones on the low end with few or no features beyond basic dialing and messaging, and business-oriented smartphones on the high end. The best-selling feature phones include those by Nokia, the Motorola Razr by Motorola, the multimedia-enabled Sony Ericsson W580i, and the LG Black Label Series that targeted retail customers.
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.
Prior to the popularity of smartphones, the term 'feature phone' was often used on high-end phones with assorted functions for retail customers, developed around the advent of 3G networks, which allowed sufficient bandwidth for these capabilities.
In the mid-2000s, phone makers such as Nokia and Motorola enjoyed record sales of featurephones. In developed economies, sales were based on fashion and brand, as markets had matured, and people were into 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 industry, 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, to high-end flagship smartphones which also enjoy higher margins, thus high-end smartphones are much more lucrative for manufacturers 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 high profit margins than feature phones, thus device makers and wireless carriers have shifted towards smartphones.
That being said, as of Q1 2012, only Apple and Samsung have been successful in the high-end smartphone market while all other manufacturers have broke even or lost money. Attempts by manufacturers to produce midrange or low-end Android smartphones in 2011-12 meant significant sacrifices to performance and usability, since the current iteration of Android is often too intensive for cheaper past-generation phone CPUs, such as Android 4.0 "Ice Cream Sandwich" on the LG Optimus L7). Nokia's turnaround effort with the Nokia Lumia Windows Phone devices was led by the inexpensive but fully featured smartphones that support the same OS as the flagship smartphones) that will sell in volumes to reasonably support the company's smartphone business as well as raise brand awareness, whereas high-end flagship smartphones will generate the profits but not be the main focus as Apple's iPhone (which does not compete in the feature phone category). At the moment, most of the focus is on high-end flagship smartphones, however Nokia has been trying to create feature phones with "smartphone functionality". An analyst noted Windows Phone has been successfully able to attract first-time smartphone buyers upgrading from a feature phone (52% of Windows Phone users had previously owned a feature phone), and as of 2013 over half of the US population still used feature phones. While this strategy was successful for Nokia and Windows Phone from 2012 to 2013, from 2014 onward saw the introduction of low-cost yet capable Android smartphones such as the Moto E and Moto G.
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 and dumbphones.
In 2011, feature phones accounted for 60 percent of the mobile telephones in the United States and 70 percent of mobile phones sold worldwide. For the first time ever, in 2013, smartphones outsold feature phones in the second quarter, according to research firm Gartner. 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.
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.
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. Despite these drawbacks, feature phones had accounted for 70% of mobile phones sold worldwide in 2011.
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.