With the smartphone market growing quickly, it’s easy to forget about feature phones or dumbphones. A huge number of people still won’t or can’t drop hundreds of dollars on a device on top of an expensive data contract. This is especially true in smaller and emerging markets. Yesterday, Nokia announced two new dumbphones that are quite compelling in a number of ways, but won’t be available in the United States.
The Asha 205 (pictured above) and 206 (below) are both slated to be released by the end of the year for a mere $62 a pop, but only in markets not well represented with Nokia’s Windows Phone offerings. The Asha 205 features a landscape 2.4-inch screen, a physical QWERTY keyboard, Bluetooth 2.1 (EDR), and a rear-facing VGA camera. The Asha 206 features a portrait 2.4-inch screen, a standard numerical keypad, Bluetooth 2.1 (EDR), and a 1.3 megapixel rear-facing camera. Facebook and Twitter are integrated heavily on these devices, but that will be slow-going with only 2G capability. Considering its target markets, however, this doesn’t seem like such a hindrance.
We’re currently in a strange place with the cellphone market. It’s clear that eventually all phones will be smart, but the devices and data plans are just too expensive for a segment of the world. During this interim period, it’s brilliant for companies like Nokia to offer lower-end devices for people on a budget who still want to be able to stay connected with their friends. They won’t be playing Letterpress or editing a Word document on the go, but these Asha phones have a lot of potential for markets like India with a growing number of middle class people wanting to stay connected.
While these phones aren’t meant to compete with iPhones or Android devices at all, they do serve a purpose. In fact, they have a rather ingenious feature that takes advantage of local sharing instead of relying on the cell networks. Instead of pairing two devices together, an owner of one of these Asha phones can choose to use Nokia’s “Slam” to send a picture to whatever the nearest Bluetooth-enabled device is. It works over the standard Bluetooth 2.1 EDR spec, so any other Bluetooth device can receive the image without needing to pair. In a way, it works very similarly to Bump on smartphones. This is a nice workaround for easily sharing photos without the use of a cell connection. Not to mention that the device is available for a relatively cheap unsubsidized price. This allows flexibility for the user, and fosters competition in the market.
As a member of the Western world, it is far too easy to project your environment on the rest of the world. Dumbphones are still a useful product, and they’re fast becoming smart. It’s good to see Nokia serving this market — selling this as a stepping stone so that one day these markets will be using full-fledged smartphones. Anything that helps developing nations stay connected with the rest of the world at a reasonable cost is worthy of notice, so Nokia‘s Asha phones get a big thumbs-up.