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One of the most surprising unveilings at the recent Mobile World Congress was the Nokia 3310, a reboot of a 17 year-old feature phone that stands out as intentionally basic amidst a dizzying world of smartphone bells and whistles. This phone boasts no cinema-quality camera, no super-fast internet, and no Candy Crush. In exchange, it offers a month-long battery life, a simplified user interface, and a price point of $49.
To me, this phone is a signal to emerging markets that the mobile industry has not forgotten that much of the world—about 37 percent of people in developing markets and 24 percent of people in developed markets, according to GSMA—will still not be using a smartphone by 2020. These populations are not making the shift for reasons like cost, battery life, and connectivity limitations. For them, the Nokia 3310 is a promising announcement.
In his research on the technology infrastructure surrounding digital financial services, CFI Fellow Leon Perlman points out that while feature phones are not disappearing any time soon, the choices for feature phones and options for people who need them repaired are shrinking. Perlman’s research, which will come out later this spring, underscores the need for the mobile industry to continue to provide valuable infrastructure to people who have not switched to smartphones. He cites the continued prevalence of USSD-based mobile money interfaces, which feature phones can utilize and which do not require internet connection, as a major incentive for continued investment in technology infrastructure for feature phones. If people cannot safely and effectively access their mobile wallets without switching to shiny new smartphones, mobile money will cease to be as inclusive as it claims to be.