April 17, 2013

Mobile OS - A Note for Developers and Marketers

By Hisham Isa

One of the hottest topics – and most intense areas of competition – in the mobile industry has been a focus on how to capture feature phone users as they migrate to smartphones. But as I pointed out in my last post, there's also a large market segment that is still sticking with feature phones. This is clear from the success of the Nokia S40 OS, which is powering cheap feature phones that offer many of the same features as their more expensive 'intelligent' siblings. In addition, carriers in several markets are eliminating phone subsidies, so whereas consumers used to feel that they were getting a free phone (though paying for it through higher monthly plans), the comparison has now changed.

So what does all this mean for marketers and developers?

First, let's take a look at market penetration. The chart below shows the percentage of consumers using smartphones in a variety of markets. We've highlighted markets that are of particular interest to marketers, based on recent advertising activity. The data is from the BuzzCity Ad Network.

The first thing to note are the percentage of people (not shown) still using feature phones, ie nearly 90% of mobile consumers in Kenya, close to 80% in Brazil and India, 70% in Indonesia and South Africa, etc. These are clearly large market segments.

Second, the recent success of the Nokia S40 OS presents an opportunity to developers with applications in the Nokia Ovi store. Even though the Asha/S40 phones are feature phones, their users still have access to the Ovi stores.

In case you haven't checked out Asha, the latest S40 phones have larger screens and feature more intense graphics, from the menus to animations and games. The platform supports Flash Lite and Java. It's built using WebKit, the same engine that powers Android, Blackberry 10 and iOS. The latest Asha phones use touchscreens instead of keypads.

Nokia's existing relationships with carriers is another plus for developers. Ovi is available on a number of operator portals, which increases visibility and sales.

There is a debate in the industry about whether S40 handsets are smartphones or feature phones. The answer doesn't really matter though, because what's clear is that targeting this market segment is a winning strategy for both marketers and developers.