Smartphone Sales Pass Feature Phone Sales in Japan for the First Time

Something interesting has just happened in the mobile market. You may have missed it or it may surprise you if you live in the US or Western Europe and are a middle class iPhone or Android owner.

What’s happened is that smartphone sales have passed feature phone sales for the first time. That may surprise you, you probably thought this happened years ago. After all, we’re all smartphone users now, right? Nope. And it didn’t: worldwide 70% of device sold are still feature phones (meaning cheaper devices running OS’s like Nokia’s S40 or other proprietary OS’s, typically with smaller screens and a lack of multi-tasking). Although the amount of money that manufacturers make on these devices is much smaller than smartphones, they ship in their millions and billions. Nokia recently shipped it’s 1.5 billionth S40 device for example.

You can read more in the MobiLens report which surveyed over 400 Japanese customers, and was compiled by market-watcher comScore  for the three months to February 2012. A quote from the report:

“Smartphones surpassed feature phones as the most acquired device type in February 2012, signalling an important shift in Japan’s mobile market,” said Daizo Nishitani, vice president of comScore Japan KK. “The rise in smartphone adoption opens the door to tremendous opportunity for publishers and advertisers to expand their reach and increase engagement with key consumer segments through this channel. Japanese mobile phone users were already highly engaged with their devices, but with the added functionality and higher levels of mobile media consumption we should expect to see significant changes in behaviour among the Japanese mobile population in 2012.”

Why Is This a Big Deal?

Japan typically leads the smartphone market and this is therefore a good indicator that slowly but surely the tide is beginning to turn towards smartphones in mature markets.

For testers this means more opportunity – smartphones typically mean a more open OS and therefore a significantly greater number of complicated applications that require testing. Feature phones are typically tested primarily by the manufacturers themselves; the only 3rd party runtime available is normally the Java ME platform and whilst there are a lot of applications launched written in Java (check out GetJar if you want some proof), there’s no evidence to suggest a large testing population at work ensuring that they work. Feature phones are also more likely to be lower powered, with smaller screens, ITU-T keyboards and generally lower spec without hardware like GPS.

However, with this move away from feature phones also comes further testing challenges; as the market switches to smartphones then it is inevitable that this will mean greater fragmentation of the OS’s themselves as manufacturers attempt to cover more and more price segments with different products. This will mean more display sizes, more hardware configurations and more differentiation in mechanics. For testers this will mean increased complication and mobile device testing strategies will need to evolve further than previously to cover a wider range of devices under test.

Also, as the market evolves then so does the installed base on devices. This presents additional challenges and further fragmentation issues. Ignore the devices in the field at your peril.

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