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A feature phone is a type of mobile phone which has less computing capacities and a smaller range of functions compared to a smartphone. Feature phones are aimed at consumers who are unwilling to buy a smartphone at a high price, but want to use more features than were available with traditional mobile phones. Feature phones can be considered as precursors to smartphones and successors of mobile phones, with which only phone calls and SMS messaging was possible. They offer their users various multimedia features, a camera, and Internet access, depending on the model, but they do not support native apps and are usually equipped with reduced, proprietary operating systems.
At the end of the nineties there were mobile telephones, which could retrieve emails, surf the Internet or use additional applications. Feature phones were popular especially in Japan. These models paved the way for later smartphones, since they were already available with features which are incorporated in smartphones, for example, I-Mode. For the most part, these phones were tailored to the Japanese market and could only be used within the framework of Japanese network standards and applications. They had Internet access via I-Mode technology, which was later replaced by WAP, UMTS, HSDPA, and LTE. For this reason, feature phones are sometimes referred to as WAP mobile phones.
Currently, feature phones satisfy the needs of certain customer groups by offering additional features, but being in a lower price segment. They are therefore particularly widespread in countries where Internet connectivity and high data transfer rates are not available. The functionality of a smartphone would not be usable, because of a lacking infrastructure. The sales figures for feature phones are correspondingly high in countries whose markets are not yet saturated from the viewpoint of technology manufacturers and are described as new markets.
Nokia and Motorola missed the smartphone development, but in the area of feature phones they were regarded as a market leader for years. Especially since smartphones only started to outsell feature phones in 2013. With the production of cheap smartphones, feature phones were at least partially displaced. Meanwhile, they are also called dumbphones with negative connotations in comparison with smartphones in terms of functionality. They remain an alternative for users who only sporadically use the higher-value features of smartphones and are not willing to pay too high a price for this usage behavior.
How feature phones work
Features Phones build on traditional mobile phones and expand them with various functions. One of the most important distinguishing features is the operating system. While smart phones use Android, IOS, or Windows Phone as systems, feature phones use operating systems such as Symbian, Brew or Java ME-based versions. These operating systems have a significantly reduced range of functions when compared to smartphone systems. The ability to run third-party apps requires special APIs that must be adapted to the proprietary system of a feature phone.
The integration of apps into the soft and hardware of feature phones is the second important distinguishing feature. With feature phones, it is usually not possible to download and install an app because the reduced, proprietary operating system does not provide for it. The source code of the system is only known to the manufacturer, and free developers cannot program apps for the system. Moreover, there have always been difficulties with the connection of APIs, which is however essential for additional functions and third-party software. This means that feature phones cannot support native apps because of their system architecture.
More recent feature phones are often able to handle certain high-quality features. They can be used as a PDA, portable media player or mobile gaming device. Most feature phones offer Internet access, GPS navigation, and a camera. Some models are also equipped with touch screens, social media integration or even mobile payment. It is also possible to expand the memory capacity with additional memory cards. As a result, these niche phones are an affordable alternative to smartphones with full functionality for multimedia, the Internet, and apps. 
Feature Phones do not support CSS media queries, but site content can still be provided for these devices and for Google. There are generally two options for this:
- Dynamic provisioning: In this case, the implementation is the same as for smartphones by querying the user agent. In the header of the HTTP response, the website informs the querying terminal which user agent it is. Googlebot Mobile is responsible for feature phones. The user agent strings are matched and the content for the respective device are loaded. In the case of user-agent sniffing, however, errors often occur. The Google help pages provide information to avoid this.
- Separate URLs: A dedicated URL is used for each device or for device groups (URL for desktop and all mobile devices, or URL for feature phones and other devices). Google needs information about how these different content pages are related. Therefore, they are annotated according to the chosen configuration with rel="alternate" and rel="canonical". If there is a separate URL for feature phone content, it is also useful to create a sitemap.
Relevance to Mobile Marketing
The importance of feature phones for mobile marketing has certainly diminished since 2013. However, many of these devices are still in circulation are popular particularly in new markets. But from the point of view of mobile marketing, feature phones are probably a niche. The development of the sales of smartphones is too fast, to make large investments in feature phone marketing worthwhile.
However, this does not mean that strategies such as SMS marketing or targeted mobile marketing campaigns and campaigns for feature phones could not bring in ROI. The target group is crucial in this context. In some countries, usage behavior is only slowly moving towards smartphones. In new markets, more young people use feature phones than smartphones. In Western industrialized countries, the opposite is the case. Whether and to what extent mobile marketing is worthwhile for feature phones depends on the target group, the market, and usage behavior. As far as possible, of course, all devices should be considered and depending on the model, different technical conditions must be taken into account.
- In Japan, People Are Flipping Out Over The Flip-Phone (Galapagos Phone): What's Old Is New Again forbes.com. Accessed on 04/13/2016
- Smartphones outsell feature phones (again) for the first time, worldwide arstechnica.com. Accessed on 04/13/2016
- dumbphone oxforddictionaries.com. Accessed on 04/13/2016
- Feature Phone phonescoop.com. Accessed on 04/13/2016
- The 411: Feature phones vs. smartphones cnet.com. Accessed on 04/13/2016
- Gartner Says Annual Smartphone Sales Surpassed Sales of Feature Phones for the First Time in 2013 gartner.com. Accessed on 04/13/2016
- Why Mobile Internet Marketing Matters theblogpress.com. Accessed on 04/13/2016