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We explain why “dumb phones” are back in fashion

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In Israel, at the beginning of 2022, imports of dumbbells, literally “stupid phones”, of the Nokia brand had recorded a 200% increase in sales over the previous year. In France, in 2021, 18% of people with mobile phones had chosen it as non-smart. In the UK, one in ten phone owners have chosen a ‘feature phone’, the other name for these mobile phones that are only for making calls …

Several ways can explain this movement: low purchase cost, solidity, the desire to move away from the screens after a pandemic that has led many to live online … But the market for dumbbells took a climb, just before the health crisis linked to Covid-19: from 400 million units in 2019, it had almost doubled in 2020, with 735 million sales worldwide. A Counterpoint study predicted one billion in sales by 2021, which seems consistent with the data available today: Statista estimates that the market size in terms of value is 9.52 billion euros in 2022.

Nostalgia and the search for disconnection

Since their replacement with smartphones, the first noticeable peak of passion for classic phones dates back to 2017. That year Nokia released a new version of its famous 3310, with T9 keyboard, slightly larger screen than in the early 2000s. , removable battery … and Snake, of course. Nostalgia for the pre-iPhone and Android era is in full swing – Google searches for phones without internet are on the rise. After all, the Finnish manufacturer was already trying to surf on consumers’ desire for “digital detox” – in 2016 a study showed that 90% of smartphone owners were victims of the phantom vibration phenomenon, leading them to believe that their phone vibrates for no reason.

Since then, the problem has only grown: on average, in 2021, humans spent 4 hours and 48 minutes on their phones every day. So the device offers that prevent doom scroller (refresh the networks without stopping, even if it hurts) have multiplied, sometimes for prices close enough to those of smartphones. Design and minimalist, the Light Phone is sold for 300 euros. The Punkt MP02, which doesn’t even offer GPS, but has a note-taking application, is available for 329 euros. What is the interest of 21% of French people who declare themselves unable to do without the telephone? I’m not sure, youtuber Cyrus North explains, because switching to an offline tool can create new problems, slowing down online shopping, for example, as more and more banks use their mobile applications to authenticate the Internet user. And then, the time spent on the smartphone is not so much due to the phone as to what we do there: staying on networks or applications that, for the most part, are completely accessible from a computer.

Accessibility, monitoring … ecology?

No, the real reason for the increase in sales of phone feature lies elsewhere: in their very low price. We mentioned the more “premium” offers, which are a bit cartoonish, but most of these items are available at low prices. A model like the Nokia 150, for example, sells for 25 euros, a price more suited to the populations of developing countries than those of smartphones. This explains why market growth is overwhelmingly driven by Africa, the Middle East and Asia. Contrary to Western issues, phone feature In some cases, they even become their users’ first Internet access: in India, the Reliance Jiio company builds “smart base phones” that give access to applications adapted to low-memory phones.

An opposite concern is that of security. In Israel, the purchase of disconnected phones came in the wake of the Pegasus deal, named after the spyware found on the phones of ministers, activists and journalists around the world. This leap could be explained by the absence of networks like WhatsApp, Facebook or Instagram, known to collect user data for advertising purposes, suggests the Times of Israel. But texting, the only means of written communication from a basic phone, is far from well known for its safety.

The last argument that could explain the renewed interest in these objects is the environmental one. Not just the phone feature they are stronger than smartphones – wasn’t there any talk of a “refrigerator” twenty years ago? But their battery life is much longer, which is especially useful in areas where the electricity supply is uncertain. In short, while it remains a very small minority in the global mobile phone market, the dumbphone seems to be the ideal candidate for those who want a tool that is easy to use, not distracting from notifications, cheap and durable.

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