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Home / Technology / The hottest phones for the next billion users are not smartphones

The hottest phones for the next billion users are not smartphones



Millions of first-time Internet consumers from Côte d'Ivoire to India and Indonesia connect to the Internet with a new type of device that costs only about $ 25. The devices look like the cheap ones

Nokia
Corp.


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Phones that were big about two decades ago. These hybrid phones, which are powered by low-cost mobile data, offer a few basic apps and Internet access in addition to calls and text messages.

Smart feature phones are among the fastest growing and least well-known segments of the mobile industry, offering some of the world's poorest people an easy way to enter the Internet economy.

While global smartphone sales began to decline in the past year with market saturation, smartphone shipments tripled from 201

7 to around 75 million, according to research firm Counterpoint. This year is expected to deliver 84 million.

Although rich nations are beginning to adopt 5G technologies, another 3.4 billion people worldwide are cut off from the Internet, according to We Are Social, another research company. Most of them already use traditional, disconnected mobile phones, so they can easily switch to similarly shaped devices that enable high-speed Internet connections.

Take the case of Kamlesh Kumar, who earns about $ 80 a month selling mangoes, avocados, and lychees from New Delhi's sidewalk, the JioPhone that he uses to stream music at work and at home his family can watch movies.


Photo:

Newley Purnell / The Wall Street Journal

Two years ago, the 35-year-old decided to replace his cheap phone without internet access. He could not even afford the cheapest nude smartphones that cost around $ 100. So he paid about $ 20 for a smartphone called JioPhone of the Indian mobile operator Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd.

. Now he listens to Bollywood music at work and searches for tunes in Hindi on Youtube using Google's built-in language assistant. At night, his family crowds around the device to watch movies.

"I could not do anything with my old phone," he said. Mr. Kumar pays less than $ 2.50 a month for all the mobile data he needs.

Smart feature phones are not only inexpensive, but also equipped with less intimidating keyboards than touchscreens. In the meantime, their batteries last for days, a bonus in places where power is unreliable.

There is a compromise for the low price. The devices typically have slower and less powerful components. Only standard cameras and their screens are usually only a few inches tall. These factors contribute to a longer battery life. There are fewer apps available for smartphones.

"Demand for reliable and affordable technology continues to grow worldwide," said Caesar Sengupta, vice president of Google's Next Billion Users initiative. "Smart feature phones are providing the next billion people with a gateway to more advanced, affordable technologies."

The category has been made popular by Reliance Jio, the telecommunications company backed by India's wealthiest man, Mukesh Ambani. When service began in 2016, executives found that millions of people who could afford the dirt-cheap data could not log in because they could not afford a smartphone.

So, together with KaiOS Technologies Inc. of Hong Kong, the company developed the JioPhone, the world's most widely used operating system for smartphones with features. The software is designed for devices with limited memory and physical keyboards.

Reliance Jio has so far sold more than 60 million of its devices in India, the only market on which they are available.

Identifying the potential of smart feature phones for the next billion users, including global technology companies

Facebook
Inc.

and his WhatsApp service,

alphabet
Inc.

Google and

Twitter
Inc.

have optimized their apps so they can be used on the devices. Google invested $ 22 million in KaiOS last year.

Over the next three years, approximately 370 million smartphones will be sold, a $ 28 billion chance for hardware, software and services companies, Counterpoint said.

Market for smartphones, of which 1.5 billion units were sold last year alone. However, average smartphone prices continue to hover above $ 300 worldwide, making them unreachable for many.

A JioPhone in a shop on the outskirts of Ahmedabad, India.


Photo:

Amit Dave / Reuters

French mobile operator

orange
SA

In recent months, a low-cost smartphone with features and low-cost mobile data rates has been introduced in Côte d'Ivoire, Mali, Burkina Faso and Cameroon. It will also be transferred to other markets in Africa and the Middle East.

A limited number of smartphones are available in Indonesia, and Indonesian manufacturer WizPhone will start offering smartphones in a few weeks, which can be purchased for around $ 7.00. KaiOS also works with Brazilian smartphone manufacturers to bring models to market.

While populous development markets offer the greatest growth potential for the devices, with most of the world's next billion users in the world, some companies are setting up similar devices for niche audiences in richer countries.

Finnish company HMD Global Oy, which sells Nokia phones, offers redesigned versions of its popular candy bar phones with additional Internet access. With price tags near $ 100, their target audience are enthusiasts of the original equipment.

Swedish company

Doro

AB launched two KaiOS-enabled mobile phones for seniors in the US and Europe last year. The large-button flip phones cost between $ 50 and $ 150.

"A smartphone can be complex and some people are scared," said Sebastien Codeville, CEO of KaiOS.

Write to Newley Purnell at [email protected]

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Would you switch to a "simple phone"? What advantages or disadvantages do you see in them? Join the following conversation.

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