Feature Phones

Some ten years ago, I started working for a telecommunications company. At the time, I was a contractor, but I wanted the people at that company to think of me as a ‘team player’. So I rushed out and purchased a cell phone plan through that company.

At the time, they were offering a very inexpensive flip phone; I picked up one for me, one for Kathy, and one for my parents. It was the Samsung x475, a basic, durable clamshell phone with a battery that needed charging only about twice a week.

Not my actual phone.

Not my actual phone.

Later, I became an employee of that company, and became eligible for free phones and a very cheap monthly voice and text plan. Over the years, my children began to be added to my account, and we started experimenting with smartphones and data plans.

In this day and age, it is quite difficult to purchase a ‘feature phone’ — that is, a phone that is not a smartphone. Presumably someone in marketing thought that calling it a ‘dumbphone’ would be bad for sales. But there still is a market for such phones, if only among Luddites and technophobes.

This summer marks the end of an era. Joshua has finally been forced to replace his Samsung x475, some ten years after it was initially purchased. For some reason, the phone decided that it would offset the network time by 5 hours and 11 minutes, correcting for timezones. It also refused to admit that any year after 2014 existed (apparently the Mayans were off by a couple of years). Since the phone was originally marketed and sold in 2004 and 2005, it was not designed for ‘bleeding edge’ technologies like 3G and LTE, and can’t communicate on the frequencies used by those types of networks. As the 2G GSM network is re-farmed and the radio frequency blocks are harvested for LTE use, less and less of the cell network is available for coverage of Joshua’s phone.

This phone has really served its time.  I wish they made 'em this durable, these days.

This phone has really served its time. I wish they made ‘em this durable, these days.

“Shall I buy you a smartphone, Josh?” I asked him.

“No, I don’t want a phone that is smarter than me,” he reasoned.

I forbore to make the obvious insulting remark, but it was a close thing.

“So, what do you want, then? A blanket and some smoke? Two cans and some string?” Sometimes I’m not as patient as I should be.

“Can I get another flippy phone like this one?” he whined, waving his Samsung x475 hopefully.

So I bought him another ‘feature phone’, this one sold by another carrier. It pretty much just makes and receives phone calls, and texts, and can play music from an SD memory card, if you buy one and load it up. Other than that, it has a rudimentary browser and not much else.

Joshua and Kelsie, admiring his new 'feature phone'.

Joshua and Kelsie, admiring his new ‘feature phone’.

Some people really enjoy standing against cultural trends, but I think Joshua has developed this into an art form. While others swap their phones out every year, needing to have the latest and greatest, Joshua gains genuine (if childish) delight from using a phone that is fully ten years behind its time.

I can imagine having a similar conversation, some ten years from now.

Me: “Say, Josh, you need to swap out your phone for one of the new ones with a telepathic interface.”

Joshua: “Aw, Dad, you know I’ve finally got the hang of using this little numeric keypad. See, if you hit the ’3′ twice, it spells out ‘e’.”

Me: “Well, the CEO of our company called me and asked if he could turn off the UMTS network. Apparently your phone is the last holdout, and they would love to shut it down. He says it would save the company about $6 billion annually.”

Joshua: “Gee, that sounds like a lot of money, but I really like my flip-phone. I’m going to have to think about it … ”

Me: “I’ll just tell him to wait, then. I’m sure it will be fine.”

Project 365, Day 219

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2 thoughts on “Feature Phones”

  1. He has a kindred-spirited cousin. So 10 years from now that $6 billion could be shared between the 2 of them, halving the cost per unit!

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