Mobile apps, the one billion dollar industry. That’s a lot to take in. Now think about this, we’re not even talking about smartphones, we’re talking about feature phones. Yeah, those little plastic nuggets derided as ‘burners’.

Independent telecoms analyst Ovum says the feature phone app markets has been spurred on by the success of apps in the smartphone sector, and while it is far from replicating that industry’s success, it is beginning to catch up.

“While feature phone users vastly outnumber smartphone users, the apps market hasn’t taken off in the same way,” Nick Dillon, Ovum analyst and author of the report says. “This is largely because it has lacked the distribution channels to enable widespread adoption”.

“However, inspired by the success of apps in the smartphone market, the options have improved drastically, with many larger handset manufacturers, operators and third parties now offering improved distribution programmes for feature phones”.

Dillon says it won’t be easy money in the feature phone market, there is great potential for brands because of the massive scale of the market and the lack of competition.

“While addressing this market is not as easy as the smartphone market, it has the potential to be more lucrative for some developers,” Dillon says. “The larger size of the market combined with higher barriers to entry means that there is less competition than in the smartphone market.”

According to Ovum, the number of feature phones worldwide will reach 2.3 billion in 2016, when they will continue to dominate the market, with a 63 per cent share, compared to 37 per cent for smartphones.

The report finds that despite its age, JavaME software is the best option for developing feature phone apps, but Nokia web widgets and Opera Mini widgets also enable simple applications using web technologies. In addition, options for web development will be further improved by the introduction of HTML5-capable browsers, which Ovum anticipates will become widespread on feature phones in the next 12-18 months.

BY Brendan Lawley ON 9 August 2011