Feature your feature phone

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The revival of the feature phone era is now happening, the most in-trend thing to be!

Feature phones are the first choice of any Indian consumer compared to a smart phone. The popular one still remains to be the basic. Recently, a revival of the same was seen.

Big brands like Samsung, Intex and Micromax is also betting on the same. The focus remains on  feature phones in the rural markets of India and that the segment is an important one for it.

The basic ones are the new trend but getting a bit advanced than the previous ones as the need be. Bigger batteries which can act as powerbanks, selfie cameras, larger speakers to give a surround sound feel and the like are being inbuilt. The present day user demand and friendliness is the first priority. New innovations will bring in more life.

The biggest barrier that a feature phone user may face in case they switch to smart phone is the high priced data and battery consumption. It is obvious that a consumer who is using the feature set definitely cannot afford big bucks but wants a cost effective basic device for himself. 

It is mostly the rural India that is fond of it as they are not that learned neither hold heavy pockets to afford the same. Most of the feature phones sold in India are priced between Rs 500 and Rs 1,500, analysts at IDC add. These phones are more popular in rural areas and small towns.

The Delhi-based company has 60 per cent of its portfolio from feature phones. A feature phone user prefers to have long battery life and loud speaker in their devices. Therefore, it plans to come out with models which have larger memory to store movies and songs. Some models would come with water resistance and tough build quality.

"Very recently, we launched a model with a front camera on a feature phone which we didn't have in the past, because consumers want to use feature phones and take selfies," said Manu Sharma, vice president of mobile business at Samsung India. "Some basic applications are being put (into these phones) so consumers can enjoy some games, minor increments."

India's feature phone market is about 65 per cent of the total mobile phone installed base. So far this year, about 61 million such devices have been sold, which is likely to rise to 135 million by the end of 2016, indicating the slowing rate of decline.

"The rate of decline of feature phones is flattening out — first half of 2016 versus first half of 2015 was an 11 per cent decline while the on-year decline for 2015 over 2014 was 15 per cent. In fact our estimate is that in the April-June quarter, this segment may have grown by 3-4 per cent over previous quarter," said Shubhajit Sen, chief marketing officer at Micromax Informatics.

Top homegrown handset makers had thought of abandoning feature phones two years ago, much like other players. But they have strategically decided to keep going with the segment as it gives them massive distribution reach, right up to the hinterlands, and large volumes. About 45-50 per cent of Micromax's monthly phone sales come from feature phones.

What is a feature phone?

Typically, a feature phone has the basic characteristics of a mobile phone and has capabilities such as a portable media player, digital camera, and personal organizer and Internet access. In 2011, feature phones accounted for 70 percent of the mobile phones sold worldwide.

Although there is no predefined difference between a feature phone and a Smartphone, a feature phone doesn’t usually support add-on applications. It may also have limited processing and storage capacity and lack advanced multimedia and Internet connectivity options.

Feature phones are also known as dumbphones, a retronym to contrast them with smartphones.

- Harsha Masand

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