Android on Feature Phones

There has always been a big difference between Android and iOS web usage. One explanation has been that many Android users are actually using their smartphones in basically the same way as a feature phone; that they are used mainly for texting and voice, and not being used too much to connect to the rich Internet.

Now, in Japan, feature phones are transitioning to Android.

What an Android/Feature phone hybrid might look like

On March 3rd, 2015, I commented on a Techpinons article by Bob O’Donnell, giving a description of a fun Android-based feature phone that was recently announced in Japan.

Just to give you some ideas, let me talk about a fun phone that we have in Japan.

A Flip-phone / Smartphone hybrid!!

It looks just like a flip style feature phone, but the keypad also works as a trackpad so you can freely move a cursor around on the screen. It runs Android 4.4 on a quad-core CPU, doesn’t work with Google Play, but messaging apps like LINE run OK. It has a full browser, HDR, WiFi and LTE. You can download apps from an app store run by the carrier (in this case, KDDI). It also comes preinstalled with a maps app, which is, you guessed right, created and owned by the carrier. It even has an office suite!!

You can tether to your tablet, if you really feel like using a boring flat slate. It actually has some Continuity-like features to work together with tablets like tapping on a phone number on your tablet will make your phone dial the number.

So Bob, is this the kind of thing you are looking for?

When you run out of ideas, you should come to Japan!

Rationale for the transition

This Nikkei article does not have much in terms of news, but it explains how moving to Android is not really about features, but more about development costs.

Common wisdom is that feature phones are easier to create. That may be true if you are Nokia and you created phones that were sold in huge numbers worldwide. However, with the rise of Chinese manufacturers and the drop in smartphone component prices, this will not continue to be true in the long-term.

Who uses feature phones anyway?

One thing that the Nikkei article gets wrong is that feature phones are not used predominantly by older people.. In corporations for example, there are many people who use a combination of feature phones and tablets. Feature phones have longer battery life, and because the flip design allows the microphone to be closer to your mouth, they are better suited if your primary usage is voice. In many ways, the Android/Feature phone hybrid that I talked about directly addresses these users.

What does this say for Android usage?

These Android/Feature phone hybrids will not be used as smartphones and will not contribute to Android web usage much. Importantly, they will not contribute to Google’s ecosystem and they will not rely on Google services. In fact, it is likely that they will not be able to run the majority of Google Play apps.

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