Flip phones show staying power

Flip phones show staying power

TOKYO - Despite the rise of the smartphone, conventional cell phones have retained a solid market presence, favoured by business people who make frequent work calls for their long battery life, and by middle-aged and elderly people for their simplicity and familiarity.

Conventional flip-style phones made up 40 per cent of nationwide cell phone shipments in October, according to figures released Tuesday.

A 53-year-old company employee walked past rows of glittering smartphones in the cell phone section of a major electronic retailer in Tokyo to browse the small selection of flip phones off in a corner.

"I used a smartphone for a year, but the battery drained fast and it was difficult to make calls. It wasn't easy to use," he said, adding that he planned to switch back to a conventional cell phone.

Flip phones are often referred to by the somewhat disparaging nickname "garakei," which is an abbreviation of a phrase that means "Galapagos cell phone." The name references the particular ecosystem that evolved in the isolated Galapagos Islands to describe phones loaded with features unique to Japan, but useless overseas.

About 1.92 million cell phones were shipped nationwide in October, according to figures announced Tuesday by the Japan Electronics and Information Technology Industries Association. Sixty per cent were smartphones and 40 per cent were flip phones.

Despite a strong push by the nation's three major cellular carriers to get customers to switch to smartphones, conventional phones made up about 60 per cent of total shipments in some months over the past year.

A survey by MM Research Institute found that people use flip phones because they are cheaper than smartphones, their batteries last longer since they are only used for calls and texting, and people are used to their simple format, among other reasons.

Smartphones are expected to continue gobbling up more of the market, but a certain level of demand for flip phones is expected to remain.

Analysts believe flip phones will still make up just under 20 per cent of shipments and just over 30 per cent of contracts in fiscal 2017.

The popularity of conventional cell phones is also evident in the market for used phones.

Awards Inc., which deals in used cell phones online and elsewhere, said it purchased about 1,400 flip phones and sold about 900 in October, and that both figures have been rising steadily.

Some middle-aged and elderly customers seek out models several years old that they used previously, according to the company based in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo.

"There will probably continue to be demand for conventional [cell phones]," said Awards President Hamakazu Awazu.

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