Facebook has released an app for featurephones to complement m.facebook.com, this makes perfect sense and might just be the biggest source of growth in The Social Network in 2011. Given the ease with which such a java app can be hacked together and configured for a vast array of mobile devices, I do wonder what took them so long to get around to this.
Featurephones remain the largest mobile market segment in terms of sales and use. Though the migration from dumbphone to smartphone is well underway, the harsh economic reality is that the majority of consumers cannot afford to upgrade and won’t be able to for some time to come.
Many of the tabloid tech blogs would have you believe that sub $100 smartphones will be pervasive in the market by the end of 2011. That may be true but thinking globally, which tabloid tech blogs rarely do, the average retail price of mobile phone floats between $45 and $50. That price is less than the baseline factory-gate cost of a theoretical Android smartphone that retails at $100. Factor in the legacy device life-cycle and the largely ignored refurbished phone market and, well, sorry folks, expect featurephones to be with us for a while yet.
So why a Facebook app when m.facebook.com is already doing a great job of servicing the needs of this market? I suspect a few reasons:
- User Experience. Ever tried to browse the web on a featurephone? It’s such easier to control and standardise the user experience with an app in these devices.
- Distribution. Featurephone customers are avid app consumers. This is evident in the incredible popularity of GetJar, Ovi and Tapjoy stores in this market segment. Carriers too might find it easier to sell phones with Facebook onboard. The few download and install stumbling blocks that frustrated app pioneers in the early years of this millennium are long gone.
- Reach. I’m at risk of repeating myself but featurephone customers make-up the largest segment of mobile users in the world. For the majority of them that ‘dumbphone’ is their only connection to the Internet. Staking claim to an icon or shortcut on their mobile desktop is a lot more valuable than grabbing a bookmark.
New Facebook registrations have reached a plateau in mature western markets, searching for growth a featurephone app is a superb idea, though perhaps not the right strategy for everyone.