The next big trend in phones? Nostalgia.
If you'd told me last year that the Mobile World Congress — the biggest mobile industry event of the year apart from the iPhone launch — would be dominated by Nokia and BlackBerry, I'd call you names. Slightly offensive, silly names.
But it's exactly what's happening, and it's not just due to the absence of Samsung's Galaxy S8, whose launch date got shifted to late March. There's a genuine feeling that users are sick of the big-screened, battery-draining smartphone, and they want something different.
Take BlackBerry's KEYone for example. It's an Android smartphone with a physical keyboard, and while that set of traits would've gotten it immediately laughed off a few years ago (as proven by BlackBerry's now non-existent market share), this year it's the phone that stands out. Our article about that phone was shared more than any other MWC news item this year, and we could see the interest firsthand at BlackBerry event in Barcelona, which also generated tons of buzz on social media.
One commenter on Facebook put it well: "Of all the phones that i have ever owned BB was one of the best! Lasted forever! I'm definitely not a follower, so I could care less about having a phone that everyone else has... Can't wait," she wrote in response to our post.
Yes, everyone else has a smartphone with a big screen and, visually, not much else. That's great from a usability perspective, but if you want to stand out from the crowd, you'll need a different type of device, and BlackBerry KEYone fits the bill. And let's not forget, it's great for typing messages and emails.
Another example is HMD's re-launched Nokia 3310. That phone was famous back in the early aughts for being sturdy, long-lasting and reliable. And everything we wrote about its return generated a lot of interest.
Nokia probably wanted the world to focus primarily on their Android smartphones. But when they let the journalists into the showroom after an event in Barcelona, guess which phone was hardest to get to? That's right, the 3310.
Nokia 3310 is not a device for a modern businessman or even a casual user. But people are excited about its long battery life, retro look and simply having a phone that's not a smartphone. At 49 euros a piece, I bet it'll sell like crazy.
The need for the second phone — a phone away from phone — has created an entire new bread of featurephones; or, better put, feature-less phones. Two examples are the ultra-cheap Talkase T3 phone, which we also found at MWC this year, and the Kickstarted Light phone, both of which exist for one specific purpose: to give you a little bit of rest from your smartphone's screen.
Now, the new Nokia 3310 is offering precisely that, as well as a touch of nostalgia for days past.
There's been a lot of smartphones at the MWC this year, and don't get me wrong; the feature phones aren't replacing them. I'm excited, and a lot of our readers are too, about the upcoming Galaxy S8 and the iPhone 8 (if that's what it'll be called) and their huge screens, powerful new processors and zillions of features.
But after ten years in smartphone land (the original iPhone launched in 2007), I want something different — even if it's just for those away-from-smartphone moments. It's entirely possible that the next phone I buy will only cost the price of a few rounds of beer, and have a physical keyboard. I'll carry it proudly.