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by Julie Bort

Saying No to Smartphones: Most Mobile Users Will Buy New ‘Dumb’ Phones

Jan 26, 20114 mins
AndroidBuild AutomationCellular Networks

With all the media attention smartphones and their apps have gotten, you'd think they were universally loved. Turns out the next mobile device most wireless service subscribers will buy will be yet another "dumb" phone. When they do upgrade, Android is more popular than iPhone.

With all the media attention smartphones and their apps have gotten, you’d think they were universally loved. Turns out the next mobile device most wireless service subscribers will buy will be yet another “dumb” phone.

Why I Switched to Android: 7 BlackBerry Geeks Speak

This month, I traded my two-year-old “1G” Samsung Rant in for an Android 2.2 HTC EVO Shift 4G on Sprint. I am (mostly) loving it (more on that soon). I told my friends on Twitter and Facebook that after attending CES, I felt like the last person on earth without a smartphone. Some agreed and welcomed me to 2008. Others, however said they don’t have a smartphone and … surprise, surprise … don’t want one. New research from shows my curmudgeon friends are far and away in the majority.

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In a survey of 2,639 wireless device users conducted in November, found that 65% will buy another “dumb” phone when it comes time to replace their existing mobile. Of those, only a tiny percentage will even buy a “quick messaging” phone capable of some smartphone functions like running a browser, similar to my old Samsung Rant. (Click for charts that illustrate survey responses.)

Only 35% said they planned to upgrade to the full spiel smartphone. Cost of the phones and the service plans was the biggest concern and with good reason. My 4G phone came with an extra $10 month fee for the privilege of owning it. There is 4G in my town but get this — coverage actually stops one mile short of my house. (I don’t need it while I’m at the house anyway — that’s what Wi-Fi is for.). Another whammy from Sprint is that, even though the device is capable of becoming a hotspot for up to eight other devices, Sprint wants to charge me $29/month to use that function — or $10 a day on an ad-hoc basis.

Respondents didn’t believe that a smartphone offered them any features they needed over what they got with their not-smart phones. Again, that’s reasonable. My old Rant had GPS, a camera, MP3 player, a browser, a full-color screen for watching s-l-o-w video.

Others said they weren’t tech smart enough to have a smartphone, believing the apps and setup too complicated. I can see that point, too. I’ve had the phone for over a week and a) I still don’t have it fully set up with my contacts installed, linked to their Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn profiles, and b) I still haven’t figured out where half the the shortcuts/bells/whistles are for the 50-ish apps that were pre-installed. Let alone mastering Angry Birds.

Android is like learning to ski. I was up and running and using it in minutes, but I fear it could take me a lifetime to master.

On the other hand, my new smartphone is a joy when I travel. Without popping open my laptop I can check three e-mail accounts, Facebook and multiple Twitter accounts, the weather, my flight status, all while taking a break from reading a book on my Kindle app. I couldn’t do that with my old Rant.

Interestingly, too, Android is for newbies, and it’s also for BlackBerry expatriates. The survey found that 49% of current Android owners traded up from a not-smartphone while 13% switched from a BlackBerry device. (Click for charts that illustrate survey responses.)

Once owners get used to their operating system, many stick with it. 11% of Android owners are on their second Android device, compared to repeat buyers of iPhone at 26% and BlackBerry at 32%. It is rather astounding that 11% of a random sample would even be on a second Android. The first one only became available when T-Mobile introduced the HTC Dream in the fall of 2008. Android is essentially only two-years old.

The next two years will certainly still usher in an explosion of smartphone usage — making it a top security concern for enterprise IT professionals. But if most people go one more round with their dumb phones, smartphone usage won’t go truly nuclear until 2015. Unless, that is, dumb phone users decide to get wise after all.

Follow Julie Bort on Twitter @Julie188.

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