The Smart Rise Of Dumb Phones

(The old and new Nokia 3310. Image from Business Insider UK)

I have two smartphones. One primarily for business and the other supposedly personal and family. As a former network engineer, it’s a habit for me to ensure that I have as much redundancy as humanly possible, therefore both of my phones are using two different OSes, different network providers and two different brands. And don’t forget the apps. If one particular app is available and downloaded in my iPhone, it must be available and downloaded in my Android smartphone as well.

But the bottom line is clear. Since I have two smartphones, my daily life is filled with notifications (and distractions). And my phones are always on 24/7/365, unless the batteries are running out of juice. It’s hard to be disconnected, especially if people knew I have a backup phone.

And I’m not really a talking kind of person but rather texting, because it allows me to gather my thought before I reply the message, and it allows me to screenshot any particular conversation that could be ‘interesting’ in the future. Most of the talking over phone was mostly a quick less-than-two-minutes conversation, and I prefer to meet up and have face-to-face conversation.

If you think living with one smartphone is hard, try to live with two.


The Rise of Smartphones (And The Fall Of Peace And Serenity)


My first mobile phone was Nokia 1640, back in 1998. I bought it using the money of working at a KFC outlet (as I wrote in my previous article here). It wasn’t much but at least it was easier for my mother to call me if she wanted to find out what time I would finish my shift during weekend or whether or not I’m coming home on particular weekend.

(Nokia 1640 Image from Google)

Nothing too fancy about the phone though. I can make and receive calls. No games whatsoever. Occasionally I sent an SMS to my friends but since the character limit was 140, I had to be short and precise about what I was trying to say (or rather, text) otherwise the message will be broken into two or more SMSes, which means extra charge. Oh, the only notifications were if there were an incoming/missed calls or SMS. But the one I love the most? The standby time could be as long as 5 days. Even with single bar of battery could have lasted maybe like 6 hours. And no bugs or viruses with its OS.

Life was simpler in 1998 I guess.

Back then a phone was nothing more than just a tool of communication, and without it we still can continue with our daily chores without any major issues. And if we hanging around with our friends at a local coffee shop, we were actually talking to each other instead of staring down to our phones to see latest notifications or SMSes. And if somehow our dumb phone got lost or stolen, what’s the big deal? Just get a new phone without any slight of worry whether or not that old phone had a compromising pictures of ourselves inside. After all, the internal storage wasn’t that huge to start with.

(iPhone XS Max. Image from Apple)

Until Apple released their iPhone in 2007, how many us would have thought that our (mobile) phone could one day become like an extension of our life? Back then a mobile phone was nothing more than just a tool of communication, albeit the one with mobility feature as compared to a snail mail or a landline telephone. Fast forward to 2018, a smartphone has become so important to our life to an extent that it has become an addiction-like. And some are not content with one smartphone and decided to buy a second one as backup (Exhibit A: me).

How bad is the addiction? Let’s see some statistics here :

  • Mobile phone subscribers crossed 5 billion users in 2017 (report here).
  • In 2017, 85% of adults in US are getting their news from their mobile device(s) compared to 72% in 2016 (report here).
  • In 2016 alone, on average it was estimated that we touched our phones 2, 617 times a day (report here).
  • Also in 2016, Apple has confirmed that their users (including me I guess) unlock their phones 80 times a day (report here).

If statistics above are not a sign of our addiction to smartphones, I don’t know what is. And with manufacturers are eager to release their latest phones with latest technologies every now and then and app developers are getting more and more creative in releasing new apps (in the name of boosting productivities or new way of entertainment), I doubt the trend would go down very soon.

Truth is, we are being enslaved and ensnared by latest post, updates and notifications even when we are right in front of another human being during a meaningful conversation. Don’t tell me you never met someone who stares at their phone screen even during an important meeting, family holiday or even during dinner and unable to focus or listen to others.


The Unintended Second Act of Dumb Feature Phones (And Why We Need It)


Although Apple and Google only entered smartphone business around 10 years ago and Nokia has been in the business since the launch of Nokia Senator in 1982, Nokia wasn’t able to give consumers a smartphone deemed as worthy to their existing user base, hence the beginning of their fall and Apple and Google started to convert Nokia’s once cult-like followers to be part of their tribes. It’s not difficult to think that if other phones (and the apps available) can give us so much more and allows us to do a lot of things, who need a phone with Snakes albeit as strong as brick? In other words, Nokia has failed to mount a serious challenge in smartphone business,

Yes, it was tragic to what happened to Nokia. From a market leader of feature phones to being brought by Microsoft and spun off to Foxconn/HMD, Nokia doesn’t seem to be able to regain their status as market leader and failed to mount a serious and meaningful fight to Apple and Google, and seemed destined to be join other failed phone companies before them like Ericsson Mobile and Siemens Mobile.


Then came our addiction with smartphones as mentioned above, and somehow Nokia and other feature phone manufacturers are poised for a comeback. And it could be one smart move for them to be in the market for dumb phones, as our addiction toward smartphones don’t seem to be cured soon, just like in this ‘funny’ illustrations.

A little bit ironic isn’t it to think that the antidote to cure our affection toward smartphones would be another phone, albeit without the ‘smart’ hat? No notifications of someone tagged a photo of you on Facebook, no latest tweets or mentions on Twitter, no new messages on WhatsApp or Telegram and definitely no reminder to update to the latest version of Snapchat. Just a basic tasks like calls,  SMSes or alarm clocks. OK maybe playing Snake as well. And the batteries definitely could last more than a single day.

A great alternative if you wanna for a digital detox (or hiding from your boss) but still wanna let you mom or significant other know that you’re still reachable, only not through WhatsApp or DM. And if market demand is the reliable indicator of popularity, Nokia 3310 was sold out almost immediately in places like India, EU and UK. And early this year HMD already announced that they’re going to revive Nokia 8110 (yup, the banana phone in ‘The Matrix’ albeit with built-in Facebook and Google apps).

I guess some people really fond of Snake game.


Less Is More. Pretend It’s 1995


Why dumb/feature phone is poised for a comeback?

Yes, partially it could be because of nostalgia. Nokia 3310 and 8110 (among others) are among few of the most popular phones produced by Nokia. And by buying it in 2018, it could be the way of some people (maybe including me, one day) to feel nostalgic about their time 18 years ago where phones were a communication tools, not a master that we feel enslaved to on a daily basis.

But mostly it could be the way for many to go through the phase of so-called ‘digital detox’. It’s 2018 today, and how many of us can say they can have one day of totally disconnected from the rest of the world, get offline and talked to the real human being, face-to-face without having to stare down on their smartphone screen every 2 minutes? hum

And even popular travel destinations also has started to ban smartphones in some part of their premises. Take Ayana Resort and Spa in Bali, where they already banned the use of smartphones by the pool as part of ‘digital detox’ for their visitors (called ‘In The Moment’ campaign). Although the campaign (and the ban) only limited to one of their pool (the other 11 is fair game), it’s a good attempt by the resort to ensure that their visitors actually enjoy the view and moment during the visit, rather than busying themselves whether or not the photos taken are Instagram-worthy.

In the age where companies like Apple, Samsung and Xiaomi are busy producing more and more smartphones, it’s good when we realised that there are alternative to a smartphone. A phone that allows us to be less connected and ensnared by all kind of distractions. Feature phone is one of the option where we could actually be in the moment (rather than lost) but still somehow can be contacted if and when necessary.

The next age of smart devices could be the one with less intelligent and more towards humanity. Maybe in a way Nokia was wrong with their past tagline which was ‘Connecting People’.

It should be ‘Humanising People’.

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