Back to blog

Back like they never left: feature phones are here to stay

Dennis Bauer

Apr 24, 2024

5 min

Walk across a college campus, step into any shopping mall, or scroll through social media, and it’s hard not to feel as though today’s most commanding trends closely resemble those of the early aughts. Pop Rock is back to the top of the charts, baggy jeans are flying off the shelves, disposable cameras are a fixture of a fun night out, and a deep sense of Y2K nostalgia has crept into seemingly every fabric of contemporary culture. While these trends are largely assumed to be cyclical, one surprising development is showing promise of sticking around: The resurgence of feature phones. 

Feature phones, sometimes described as “dumb” phones, do away with the bells and whistles of modern smartphones and are often smaller in size and more affordable. Some resemble classic flip phones, while others look like smartphones but without the endless buffet of apps.

Dawn of the digital detox

For many, particularly Gen Z, they provide a counterbalance to our collective fixation on our smartphones and the constant stream of notifications worsening our attention spans and filling many with unshakable anxiety. By stripping down the phone to its core functions of calling and texting, it's returning to its original purpose of connecting people. 

Although they’ve existed for decades, their market share diminished significantly with the introduction of the iPhone in 2007. However, much like with fashion, music, and entertainment, what’s old is new again. By the end of this year, the revenue generated by feature phones is expected to reach $10.6 billion. And it’s not just nostalgia spurring demand, a growing number of people are falling out of love with their smartphones: The percentage of US adults who say they use their smartphone “too much” rose to 58% in 2022, up from 39% in 2015. For those between 18-29 years old, that figure shot up to 81%. 

Can I have some privacy, please?

While hashtags like #bringbackfliphones have garnered tens of millions of views on Tiktok, and a Barbie flip phone is set to hit stores this summer, there’s a wide array of more modern feature phones catching consumers’ attention too. For those keen on privacy and keeping their data secure, Punkt. and Light developed thoughtfully designed phones with these priorities top-of-mind. In a direct rebuttal to the growing “attention economy” and “surveillance capitalism”, Light notes that its premium minimalist phones are, “designed to be used as little as possible.” The company even partnered with Kendrick Lamar for the release of the Light Phone 2 last year, which reportedly sold out in days. 

Subscribing to simplicity

These purposefully old-school devices commonly come with their own branded phone plans. This allows them to provide their customers with a digital activation experience that’s as easy as ordering an Uber, while extending their business model from one-time device sales to include recurring subscription revenue. 

While some have called the resurgence of feature phones a fad, and others remark that they’re unlikely to regain their dominance in the market, it’s impossible to ignore the fact that they’ve successfully evolved their products to meet the moment. At a time when society is changing at a rapid clip, this evolution and resilience is worth paying attention to.

Recommended articles