We explain why “stupid phones” are back in vogue

In Israel, at the beginning of 2022, there were imports of dumbphones, literally “stupid phones”, of the brand Nokia had registered a 200% increase in sales compared to the previous year. In France, in 2021, 18% of people equipped with a mobile phone had chosen it as non-smart. In the UK, every tenth phone holder has chosen a “function phone”, the second name for these mobile phones, which are only used to make calls …

Several ways can explain this movement – low purchasing costs, solidity, desire to move away from screens after a pandemic, which has led to many people living online … But the market for dumbphones took an upward slope 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 survey predicted one billion sales in 2021, which seems to be in line with the figures available today – Statista estimates the market size in value at 9.52 billion euros in 2022.

Nostalgia and the search for interruption

Since their replacement with smartphones, the first notable 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. The nostalgia for the pre-iPhone and Android era is in full swing: Google searches for phones without internet are on the rise. 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 phenomenon of phantom vibrations, which makes them believe that their phone vibrates. without reason.

Since then, the problem has only grown: on average, in 2021, people spent 4 hours and 48 minutes on their phones every day. So the offers of devices that prevent doomscroller (refreshing your networks without stopping, even if it makes you feel bad) has multiplied, sometimes for prices close to smartphones. Designed and minimalist, the Light Phone sells for 300 euros. Item MP02, which does not even offer GPS but has a note application, is available for 329 euros. What is the interest of the 21% of French people who declare themselves unable to do without their telephone? Not sure, illustrator youtuber Cyrus North, to switch to an offline tool can create new problems – for example, curb online purchases, while more and more banks are using their mobile applications to authenticate the Internet user. And then the time spent on smartphones is not so much due to the phone, but what we do there: to hang out on networks or applications, which are mostly completely accessible from a computer.

Availability, monitoring … ecology?

No, the real reason for the increase in sales of function telephones located elsewhere: in their very low price. We have mentioned the more “premium” offers, which are a bit cartoonish, but most of these items are available at low prices. For example, a model like the Nokia 150 sells for 25 euros, a price that is better suited to people in developing countries than smartphones. This explains why market growth is predominantly driven by Africa, the Middle East and Asia. Unlike Western problems, function telephones In some cases, they even become their users’ first access to the Internet: In India, Reliance Jiio builds “smart base phones” that provide access to applications tailored to low-memory phones.

An opposite concern is safety. In Israel, the purchase of unconnected phones jumped in the wake of the Pegasus affair, named after spyware found on the phones of ministers, activists and journalists around the world. This leap can be explained by the absence of networks like WhatsApp, Facebook or Instagram, known for collecting user data for advertising purposes, the Times of Israel suggests. But SMS, the only means of written communication from a regular phone, is far from known for their security.

The last argument that can explain the renewed interest in these objects is the environment. Not only function telephones is stronger than smartphones – did we not talk about “refrigerator” twenty years ago? But the duration of their batteries is much longer, which is especially useful in areas where the power supply is uncertain. In short, while still a very small minority in the global mobile phone market, dumbphone seems to be the ideal candidate for anyone who wants an easy-to-use tool that is unlikely to distract from messages, financially and sustainably.

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