Is there still a place for the ‘dumbphone’?

Posted on March 8, 2017

 

Perhaps due to the hipster phenomenon, a growing market has developed in recent years for seemingly outdated media. Many young people prefer the warmth and charm of vinyl to the convenience of MP3, while others favour the physical excitement of Polaroid cameras and physical photographs over the idea of computer files.

The latest development in catering to this digital-shunning niche appears to be the relaunch of the Nokia 3310, which is in “astonishing” demand, according to Carphone Warehouse. This is certainly a turn-up for the books, because we’re in an era now where we assume all phones to be ‘smart’, and then along comes a classic ‘dumbphone’ to put the cat among the pigeons.

Those who recall the popular phones around the turn of the 21st Century will remember the 3310 as one of a number of chunky, monochrome display options that did little more than make and receive phone calls, allow the formulation of texts (no more than 140 characters), offer a couple of basic games like Snake (which is fondly remembered) and Memory (which ironically is often forgotten), and play a selection of monophonic and irritating ringtones, like the one popularised by Dom Joly’s ‘Big Phone Guy’ character from Trigger Happy TV.

The 2017 remake of the 3310 is a little more advanced than its 2000 prototype, but retains much of its original allure, like alphanumeric keys and even a revamped version of Snake called ‘Snake Xenzia’. It has a basic web browser, but is reliant on 2Gnetworks, which may pose problems as these are being phased out in some parts of the world.

With the phone’s charm come obvious limitations, but I believe there is a market for simple, no-frills phones. Statistics show that although around nine out of ten people aged 18 to 34 in the UK own a smartphone, only around half of those aged 55 to 64 do. Among over-65s, smartphones are only owned by about a quarter.

This is to be expected as technology is always more likely to be embraced by younger people, but it’s also rather silly because older, more vulnerable people are possibly the ones who need to be carrying a phone the most, if only for emergencies.

I was recently in a situation where I was with a lady in her 80s whose coat, which had the keys to her car and house in its pockets, had been taken by mistake. There were people who could’ve helped her and she had their phone numbers written down – in a notebook kept beside her landline phone, in her house, which she couldn’t get into. If she’d been carrying a mobile phone with a few emergency contacts on it, even if she didn’t know how to use it herself, I could have helped her more than I did.

Fortunately, just for the sake of giving that story a happy ending, the man who accidentally took the coat came back and returned it to her, but it could have been a serious situation made worse by her digital isolation.

For people like her that struggle to get to grips with new technology, a smartphone does seem a bit of a wasted luxury, but a basic portable phone for ‘just in case’ situations seems a good idea. Perhaps it’s this market that the 3310 is best suited to?

A younger market might initially enjoy the nostalgic nature of the phone, but are they truly ready to ditch their 4G ways? They may eventually find its restrictions similar to those of music cassettes, where the idea of taping their favourite songs off the radio and sharing mixtapes with their friends may seem enticing, but then the realities of the DJ talking over songs and the constant rewinding and fast-forwarding grind them down. And that’s before they experience reaching for a pencil to wind the loose, tangled tape back in!

Content Team Leader at Engage Web
John works for Engage Web as a Content Team Leader and regularly contributes to the website and programmes of his beloved Chester F.C.
John Murray
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