While Analysts are quick to bash Nokia for missing the rise of the smartphone, there’s quite possibly a return of the feature phone ahead. Nokia is still making a major share of their revenue with their Asha models - although in a possibly neck-breaking move they are trying to cut off their Symbian legacy and bet everything on Windows Phone.
On the other hand the smartphone market (at least in Europe and the US) seems to become saturated. The appetite for every more features and bigger screens is not endless. Manufacturers like Apple and Nokia are desperately looking for new features that will make people pay 600 Dollars or more for a new phone - even more so, when they already have one. Apple is going for a new user interface, while Nokia is trying to establish itself as the smartphone manufacturer with the best camera technology. It’s dubious that either of these work out, because people are getting tired of minor novelties. It was fun, when the iPhone came out, but where’s the fun now? As Matt Asay writes on the ReadWriteWeb:
“I tend to be someone who wants the newest device, but I’ve found myself regularly skipping versions of the iPhone because the improvements in the iPhone 4S, for example, hardly justified taking a carrier contract hit to upgrade from my iPhone 4. The same will be true if Apple releases a ho-hum improvement on my current model, the iPhone 5.”
Adriana Lee, also on ReadWriteWeb, is one of many (predominantly female?) users who are getting tired of ever growing screen sizes (rumor has it that Apple is working on a bigger iPhone now - yawn):
“Back then, my Motorola StarTac … fit in my skinniest jeans and clutch bag. It was easily operable with one hand. And without a big screen to power, its battery life felt endless. That clamshell phone was my constant companion, and it guaranteed that I’d never be stranded with no way to call for a tow. I miss those days. And I’m not alone”
It’s just so convenient to carry around a super small feature phone with all the features you really need: voice, text messages and Internet, and maybe a lousy camera. Granted, a better camera would be a welcome addition to a feature phone. It’s not totally out of reach as demonstrated by the Nokia 808 (look how long it took to get the same quality on the Windows Phone platform with the Nokia 1020). Plus it will be much easier to impress your mates with a Nokia Asha 510 when everyone puts an iPhone or a Galaxy on the table :)
When you buy into the idea of a continuing and possibly growing market for feature phones there’s the question of the software platform, because customers are still going to want some apps. Symbian was quite ok in terms of the user interface if you ask me, but it did not get much developer love and Nokia seems to finally want to kill it off. For the Asha phones Nokia still runs the Series 40 platform with Java. With all the hype around HTML5, it looks like Firefox OS might become the OS of choice for many feature phones to come. How manufacturers and carriers will cope with software distribution and security is still an open question, though.