As leading smartphone makers launch flagship devices that cost over a lakh rupees, several Gen Zers and millennials are turning to feature phones. The reason they state is: digital detox. The young generation is looking to limit use of social media apps and other distractions that accompany smartphones.
A feature phone is a mobile device that skips advanced features that are available in smartphones. These devices are built with basic functionalities like media player, digital camera, and internet access, skipping support for add-on apps. Sales of feature phones, according to research firm Counterpoint, is expected to reach 2.8 million in 2023. The firm predicts the U.S. feature phone market to grow, backed by the shift in purchasing preference of the youth. While several Gen Zers in U.S. are looking to pick up a feature phone, those in India have a slightly different take on digital detox.
Mudassir Hussain, 24, uninstalled social media and OTT apps from his smartphone for almost six months earlier this year. He does not feel the need to switch to feature phones for a digital detox. Mudassir uses his smartphone to click pictures, a feature he is not willing to give up. “The lack of good cameras on feature phones does not make them a viable option for me. I find it easier to uninstall apps to reduce distractions and use my smartphone for other features,” he said, adding that he is not willing to spend a hefty amount on the latest flagships anytime soon.
Mudassir chooses to share images he clicks with a close knit group of friends and family through instant messaging platforms, rather than post them on social media.
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When it comes to updating older handsets, pricing plays an important role in deciding which smartphone the younger generation is favoring.
Abbas Javed, 25, has decided that we will not spend more than ₹50,000 on his smartphone. He echoes Mudassir’s views when it comes to switching to a feature phone. While social media is not what he uses his phone for, he is not willing to give it up because of features like fast charging, a powerful processor, and longer battery life.
“I use my phone mostly for gaming and office work and I need a phone with a longer battery life for the same. Social media is not really a distraction for me, and I don’t think I will switch to a feature phone for a digital detox.”
Javed thinks the trend of switching to a feature phone in the U.S. may have an impact on choices of users in India.
Rahul*, 16, feels he will have to give up his smartphone when he starts preparing for his board exams. “I mainly use my smartphone for content consumption and social media, so I would switch to a phone with fewer distractions,” he said.
Rahul said he rarely used his smartphone for things other than content consumption and connecting with friends. So, switching to a feature phone would be an easy choice for him when looking to reduce use of social and content platforms.
While social media platforms look for ways to increase user engagement, with new features and updated UIs, feature phones appear to have found new takers in Gen Z.
The adoption of feature phones by the younger generation also appears to have been spurred by the introduction of improved hardware and capabilities which were earlier limited to smartphones.
Aryan*, 16, feels smartphones, especially social media apps, are an unnecessary distraction. While choosing a feature phone, Aryan said he does not like the amount of time his peers spend using their smartphones to click pictures for social posts and scrolling through content, and he does not plan trading his feature phone for a smartphone.
Capabilities like eSIM and NFC along with support for UPI payments in India, may also encourage more users looking for fewer distractions to make the switch to a feature phone.
The Indian feature phone market also recorded a 9% YoY growth in Q2 2023, according to a report from CyberMedia Research (CMR), pointing to increased adoption of feature phones. However, while 2G phone shipments remained stable, 4G feature phone shipments recorded 108% YoY growth driven by contributions from Nokia and itel devices.
*Names have been changed to protect the identity of minors.