Commentary

Dumb Is As Dumb Does

Forrest Gump's momma had a point. Her famous "stupid is as stupid does" reassurance to her son is applicable to the evolving cell phone universe as well. "Dumb phones," the current shorthand for non-smart devices or feature phones, are only as dumb as the limited uses people choose for them.

Some marketers are so enamored with the palettes smart phones offer, and the high levels of data usage they inspire, that they focus almost all of their attention there. But all of those wonderful metrics pointing out that smart phone owners consume three to four times more data than feature phone users leave out two important points. First, there are still multiple more feature phone owners out there than smart phone owners, and they do use the data channel. In fact (point two) all of the hype around the iPhone, Android, Blackberry et. al. may well be pushing the billions who don't own these devices to access applications and mobile Web.

"We're up 300% in the last 12 months," says Patrick Mork, vice president of marketing at GetJar, an off-deck portal for downloadable applications. "We do about 1 million downloads a day." Sixty percent of the GetJar catalog are Java-based apps like IM and email clients, browsers like Opera and games. "There is no doubt that iPhone, Ovi and a lot of these initiatives are raising awareness of apps in general," says Mork. While 30% to 35% of GetJar traffic comes from smart phones, the rest are using a wide range of handsets from around the world. The U.S. market has only come on strong for them in the last year, but U.K., Indonesia, Egypt and India are among their persistent top sources for business.

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GetJar's is an interesting model that serves as a free portal for users and for most of the developers. About a third of the suppliers of its 45,000 apps are paying for premium placement and promotional services. Google is one of its biggest clients, since it tries to proliferate its map app. Opera uses GetJar to distribute its mobile browser, and Mig33 promotes its IM client here.

This sort of open market begs the question whether brands are interested in tapping a platform where Google maps was downloaded 138,688 times last week and the Nimbuzz mobile messenger got over 400,000 downloads last week, making it the top program among U.S. audiences. Just as users of all kinds are becoming more app-savvy, brands are starting to see that feature phones too can be a direct-to-consumer opportunity. "It wasn't the case as little as six months ago, but we are getting a lot of inquiries about what they can do to get on GetJar," says Mork. Coca-Cola used GetJar to distribute its Fanta Stealth Sound system app in a recent test that attracted 100,000 downloads.

While GetJar is cultivating carrier relationships, much of its distribution is coming from viral, search and word of mouth. Mork says that a recent survey of users found that 30% of them were coming in from recommendations, and 28% from search. The more content that comes into the catalog, the more SEO-optimized the site becomes. A search for "free apps for RAZR" will find GetJar in one of the top results.

GetJar is device-agnostic. It provides downloads for BlackBerry and Android and even provides links into the iPhone App Store to thousands listed. Nevertheless, Mork thinks that the raw stats suggest there is a myopia around smart phones: "I understand it -- but I disagree with it. It is not in line with the statistics we see."

Go to stats.getjar.com to see the detailed breakdown of the devices and operating systems that are downloading apps. In the U.S., smart phone models have strong market share but there is much else here as well. "It shows us there is demand for content that is not limited to smart phones," Mork says. Moreover, the experience of downloading content to "dumb phones" can be just as addictive. According to its own survey, 50% of GetJar users are downloading apps once a week.

The rise of the BlackBerry and iPhone has elevated the profile of mobile data generally, but it hasn't necessarily sold the device to everyone. Millions, perhaps billions, of mobile users will choose both to stay with more rudimentary feature phones, and at the same time expect the phones to do more. We can't very well complain that mobile media has not reached "critical mass" if we overlook the masses who are already there.

4 comments about "Dumb Is As Dumb Does".
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  1. katie palani, June 4, 2009 at 11:40 a.m.

    I do think it's important to take a step back from the iPhone craze and realize, as Steve is saying here, that the numbers of folks using "dumb" phones is staggering, and that just because we don't have a "smart" phone doesn't mean we are not tech-savvy or we don't want mobile access. Great point, Steve.

  2. Dean Collins from Cognation Inc, June 4, 2009 at 12:24 p.m.

    When is someone going to open up a multiplatform mobile appstore?

    Ex.
    http://iphone.mobileappstore.com
    and
    http://windows.mobileappstore.com

    If a particular manufacturer wanted something they could set up http://samsung.mobileappstore.com

    Offering it with carrier billing but multiple choice makes sense to me.

    Cheers,
    Dean

  3. Tim Meyer from Pervasive Computing, June 5, 2009 at 11:02 a.m.

    GetJar is an interesting aggregator and a specialized search engine and their revenue model is clear. What is not clear is why a developer would bother with J2ME, Symbian with no clear business model. A brand is paying for placement because this is a cost center, but these stats mean nothing if they don't point to a way of making money on dumb phones.

    In-game advertising? Transactions? Subscriptions? This analysis is silent on these, and ultimately aggregators are always in peril of being squeezed out without a clear value to the vast number of developers.

    I suspect that all the downloads in Indonesia and Egypt are for Voip and IM. These clients then have their own connectivity and charging setup. These vary by carrier and country, so I really doubt that making apps for dumb phones makes any sense.

    Where is the money?

  4. Steve Smith from Mediapost, June 5, 2009 at 5:45 p.m.

    @Tim

    Well from what GetJar tells me, apps like Google and Opera are monetizing the scale on the back end with search ads. Companies like Mig33 are VC backed and are trying to build community and scale to leverage later into some monetizable model. My guess is that they will upsell services. Games are using it for in-game ads. And obviously brands can use dumb phone apps for sheer branded app distribution. I am not sure why these apps would have any different range of business models than smart phone apps.

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