Flip Phone Comeback on the Horizon?

flip phone comeback

Forget the iPhone 6 – flip phones are better than you might remember

flip phone comeback? photo courtesy of Dan Croninphoto: Dan Cronincc

I was riding the subway home the other day when I looked over and saw a toddler using his little fingers to navigate his father’s smartphone. Immediately I wanted to know what this porky little “pre-person” was looking at to pass the time on his commute. Checking the return on his portfolio perhaps? He smiled at me and I made a scary face back. He was still too young to talk (thus tell on me) and I continued my commute without repercussion. As I glanced around at the other heads on the train, fathoms deep in their smart devices, I wondered where the simplicity of life had gone. I suddenly missed my old flip-phone.

It turns out I’m not the only one. Last year a few Hollywood celebrities, including Rihanna and Kate Beckinsale, were spotted scrapping their “smarties” for older clam-shell “dumb” phones. The presumed reason behind the trend was a response to the massive leak of celebrity nude photos known in some circles as “the fappening.” The logic there being that if dumb phones are incapable of uploading to a “cloud” storage space, they can’t run the risk of being hacked into by unscrupulous fans of the human body. The ability to simply turn the automatic upload ability off, however, leads me to believe that simple “vintage” aesthetics may also have been a prime factor.


Don’t Call it a Comeback

The title of this article is a bit of a lie. While it’s easy to label a few celebrities sporting dumb phones a “comeback,” the truth is that flip-phones never really went anywhere to begin with – at least from a global standpoint. The Pew Research Center puts the amount of flip-phones/feature-phones currently in use by phone-owning Americans at 46%. While that’s quite a bit lower than what it used to be, the rest of the world still favors dumb phones by a margin of roughly 2 to 1. The legacy of the dumb phone, as it turns out, is far from over.

 Multiple Flip phones photo: Michael Hanscom – cc

Big in Japan

The rise in flip phone popularity is far more pronounced overseas. Last year, Japan witnessed the first rise in flip-phone shipments in 7 years while simultaneously experiencing a slight decrease in smart-phone shipments.

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While Western countries have come to view the flip-phone as minimally featured and antiquated (which in many ways it can be), the Japanese have been maintaining a relatively up-to-date set of capabilities for their beloved devices. While they might lack the apps and more complex operating systems of their touch-screen brethren, it’s not uncommon for newer flip phones to rock unusually high-spec’d hardware. The Japan-exclusive Sharp SH-03D Aquos, for example, sports a camera capable of 1920 x 1080 Full HD video recording as well as a whopping 16.1 megapixels for stills (the camera on the iphone 6 has 8).

flip phone in japanphoto: jpellgencc

But perhaps the main reason for Japan’s unusually devout love affair with the flip phone is simply its low cost. With some of the most expensive data plans in the world, Japan has a far larger market for low data use devices. Many frugal Japanese teens have found they can live their daily lives just fine without full 4G mobile internet access at their beck and call.


5 Reasons to embrace a flip phone comeback

Let’s be honest, most of us tend to hold at least a small amount of contempt for those still clinging to technology that high-pointed in the mid-2000s. What many of us see as clinging, however, might be purely utilitarian. Let’s take a look at some of the perks we might have forgotten:

1. Battery life

I still remember the shock of discovering the pitiful battery life of my now aging Samsung Galaxy S3. I went from a phone that needed to be charged once every 10 days to a device that’s lucky to last until 8pm. Some dumb phones today like the Nokia 105 can last on standby mode for over a month. Just let that one sink in.

2. Data plan

I also remember my dear mother’s exasperation when she told me the increased cost of moving to a data plan large enough for a smart phone to operate effectively. With the lower capabilities of a flip phone comes lower data usage costs. I miss it and I’m not gonna pretend like I don’t.

3. Durability

I work for a mobile phone repair company. Most of us have seen more broken screens than 99 percent of you, guaranteed. I know what it takes to break an iPhone (not much at all) and I remember how hard it was to crack even the skinniest flip-phone from 2005. Less internal components means less that can go wrong.

4. That sweet antenna

Unfortunately I can’t imagine the newer flip phones have retained this feature. That chubby little baby on the train will never know the satisfaction of pulling out a slender wire of questionable efficiency to announce to the world that indeed, this call is important.

5. The “flip”

I feel like this one speaks for itself. If you’ve never answered a phone by spinning it in the air from its hinge and letting the centrifical force open up ten kinds of cool to your eardrum, well, put it on your bucket list. It’s just another reason it’s cooler to “flip” than it is to “swipe.”


Making Dumb Phones Smart

If the above-mentioned perks of owning a flip phone aren’t enough for you, dumb phones might soon be getting an IQ boost. Australian entrepreneur Gour Entell has founded a startup called BiNu that aims to give dumb phones all over the world some pretty “smart” features (yes, that includes apps) by “delivering internet services 10x faster than standard mobile browsers whilst using 10x less mobile data.”

If this sounds too good to be true, it actually makes perfect sense. While the output of data service is unlikely to retain the detail of smartphones through a slower 2G or 3G network, the trade-off  is a far faster stream of information to your phone.

And how can a budget flip phone with an aging processor possibly handle mobile apps? The key to what makes BiNu work is found in the clouds. No, not real clouds. BiNu’s developers have created a way for a cloud system to take over the brunt of the phone’s processing needs. Rather than having a flip phone’s internal processor run an app like… let’s say “Tinder,” the signal would be sent up to the cloud processor which takes care of the computing work before transferring the result back to your 50 dollar plastic clam-shell. How the company is going to find a network able to reach everyone has yet to be disclosed though there are a few developing satellite networks that might make a viable choice in the near future.

According the company’s white paper, only a third of the world’s population has access to the internet. This leaves around 4 billion (mostly in developing countries) without access to information which, in turn, makes it harder to develop a country’s infrastructure. Whether the “Hot or Not” app will gain traction in the Congo, however, will have to be seen.


Last Words

I’ve been talking a lot about all the ways flip phones can be pretty awesome, but I left out one big thing. Sure, we can make them rival smartphones in the near future (some of them already do), but to do so would defeat the purpose of carrying a simpler, less involving device.

muni phonephoto: Daniel Hoherdcc

We get stuck in our phones. We miss what’s going on around us. Those willing to change the routine by putting their phones down are on to something, but even they’re doomed if the rest of us can’t meet them halfway. Smart phones often make us numb to the beauty around us. They make it easier to drown people out and they stagnate our daily commutes with a never-ending supply of cheap chuckles whenever we want them. Flip phones are simple, and sometimes simple is a good thing.


P.S.  This bad boy below was my first “flipper” and I miss it terribly. What was yours?

My LG flip phone circa 2002


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  1. other arguments for the flip phone:

    6. Not being as “smart” as a smart phone, a flip doesn’t do incredibly stupid things either, like dialing/texting when it is just sitting in my pocket. When my Samsung smart phone rings in my pocket, half the time i go to grab it, i either inadvertently dismiss the call. If a text message comes while the phone is in my pocket, the screen apparently wakes up, then any sort of pressure on the glass can cause the phone to do any sort of thing…

    7. I could easily text without looking at my flip phone at all. This is very handy while driving – I do NOT text with my smart phone while driving, because you really need to focus on the phone’s screen. Not so with the flip – I could easily text a whole coherent message without ever looking at it.

    • Wow, I totally forgot about that. I definitely used to be able to text by sense of feel alone. Every time I get a close call driving around the city I look at the driver and 9 times out of 10 they’re looking at their damn phone screen.

  2. Just read your article…I love my LG flip phone….I have 4 in reserve in case one gets damaged beyond repair…actually buried one accidently while running a bulldozer…called it from my wife’s phone…found it under 8″ of wood chips…unscathed….Simple is better…and I can text so much faster on my phone than on my wife’s iphone….

    • Flip phones are tanks compared to everything we have nowadays. I got a crack in my Samsung from a 2 foot drop :'(

  3. My first flip phone was a silver audiovox snapper on virgin mobile that I bought from a girl in the locker room between classes. I loved it so much – my parents were always listening in on my phone calls at home, so being able to *text* someone was a revalation in privacy and self expression. I currently “double phone”. I have a smartphone that I pay way, way too much for on Verizon, and I also have a Nokia 6015i from 2003 that I keep fixed with replacement parts. It still works like a dream, even with almost 200 hours on its life timer. I love the simplicity and durability of my Nokia, and I will stubbornly cling to it until it dies. An unexpected benefit of using this phone is the new ” hipster” appeal it affords me. It goes well with my chunky frame glasses and skinny jeans. 😉

    • Nokia makes some of the nicest phones on the market – it’s really a shame their marketing (or lack thereof?) is complete crap. I feel like they could be killing it.

      While I’m guilty of having a smartphone myself, the phone bill I have to pay (even on our family plan) really just isn’t worth it any more. There’s no real reason I can’t wait til I get home to go on reddit 😛

  4. Long live the flip phone! I only hope that someone will make a flip phone that will run on a 4G network as the 2G and 3G networks get shut down. Will the wireless companies still keep the feature phone alive for those of us that don’t want a data capable phone? For some of use simple really fits out lifestyle better.

    • I know they have quite a few 4G flippers in places like South Korea and Japan, but It’s not as big in other countries. It’s a shame companies want to get rid of 2G/3G (as early as 2017). I’m guessing there’s quite a bit of money to be made by forcing people onto 4G capable devices.

  5. I had a Sanyo SCP-3810 flip phone for almost 6 years. I got a new phone this past year: still a flip phone, a Samsung A157.