Our Blog

The official Motribe blog, written by the founders

June 1

If your handset can make calls, send SMSes, use apps and access the Internet, it’s a smartphone, right? Sure, but there’s more to it than that. Smartphones as we know them aren’t as prevalent in the market as we’ve been led to believe. For example, the two biggest-selling handsets in Africa are the Samsung E250 and the Nokia Xpress Music. They can do almost all of the things that a smartphone can do, and yet they’re regarded as ‘dumbphones’, while the Nokia Series 40 and Series 60 handsets are referred to as feature phones … but why? Simply put, the market has decided that they’re not smartphones; they’re feature phones.

The difference between a smartphone and a feature phone is both confusing and simple, and might lie in the way the user interacts with it. The answer could be that a smartphone has a touch-screen while a feature phone is interfaced via its keypad. This means that, unless your BlackBerry is the touch-screen type, it’s probably not thought of as a smartphone by many developers or mobile specialists.

So how do you manage this with your mobile sites?

At Motribe we build what we have coined ‘upwardly optimised sites’. This means that we start at the bottom so that all our sites can be accessed via feature phones as well as smartphones, and we have a very practical reason for doing this: feature phones aren’t going anywhere just yet. We’ve found, through research conducted both by Vodacom and here at Motribe, that people in Africa don’t throw away their old phones; they simply hand them down or pass them around. Essentially, this means that, rather than diminishing, the feature-phone market is staying right where it is, if not actually growing. We think this trend is likely to continue for at least the next five years before we start seeing the feature-phone market begin to diminish.

We think the classification of handsets as either smartphones or feature phones needs to be updated. But in the meantime, look at it this way: if you can use your device to literally reach out and touch someone, you’re probably the lucky owner of a smartphone.