Smartphones may be taking over the mobile world, but feature phones remain on the scene -- and will for some time. That's part of the reason why Facebook is rolling out an app designed specifically for feature phones.
Mark Heyden, a program manager at Facebook, still loves his flip phone and he knows other people love theirs, too. He said Facebook wants people to have a great mobile experience no matter what type of phone they carry. And the fact remains that even though smartphones offer better features for sharing with friends, most people around the world still use feature phones.
Built on the Snaptu mobile-app platform, the new Facebook mobile app brings popular features like photos and a familiar user experience to the world's most popular feature phones.
"The Facebook for Feature Phones app works on more than 2,500 devices from Nokia, Sony Ericsson, LG and other manufacturers, and it was built in close cooperation with Snaptu," Heyden said. "The app provides a better Facebook experience for ... our most popular features, including an easier-to-navigate home screen, contact synchronization, and fast scrolling of photos and friend updates."
Free Data for 90 Days
Heyden said Facebook also wants to make the app available to as many people as possible. Similar to the 0.facebook.com site, he said the company has worked with mobile operators around the world to let Facebook users try the app without paying any data charges.
So far, Facebook has convinced 14 mobile operators to offer free data access when using the new Facebook mobile app during the first 90 days after they launch, including Dialog, Life, Play, StarHub and Vodafone. All of Facebook's participating carriers are outside the U.S. During the next few months, Facebook plans to make the app available through more carriers in other countries.
Is Facebook coming late to the party? Maybe if it were concentrating its efforts on the U.S. Smartphones are poised to overtake feature phones in the U.S. this year. But even so, only 21 percent of American wireless subscribers are using smartphones, according to Nielsen. Not surprisingly, smartphones show higher application usage than feature phones, even at the basic built-in application level.
'Their Only Computer'
But Facebook's move is strategic, possibly bringing more international users to its network -- users whose phone may be the only way to connect to the Internet.
"In some markets people can't afford the more expensive phones and can't afford the data plans. Obviously there's going to have to be a data plan to make Facebook work, but smartphones in many markets have minimum data-plan requirements that some consumers even in developed markets find onerous," said Avi Greengart, an analyst at Current Analysis.
"Nokia sells literally hundreds of millions of phones a year, and most of those aren't smartphones," he added. "So there is definitely a market for lower-cost devices and some of the people using them, just like people with smartphones, want to do more than just talk and text. For many people, their phone is the their only computer."