Nokia 8110 4G is a Feature Phone with Google Assistant
Can a feature phone with an AI assistant be considered dumb? Or, is it simply less smart than your standard smartphone? HMD is the current manufacturer of Nokia labeled feature phones and it unveiled the Nokia 8110 4G feature phone at Mobile World Congress yesterday in Barcelona. Most of the media are focused on the fact that it is actually a reintroduction of a body style from the 1990’s that became iconic after Keanu Reeves used it in The Matrix. Style aside, this feature phone will be priced at about €79 or just under US$100. More importantly, it will provide access to Google Assistant, Search and Maps.
There are many wonderful mobile apps available to smartphone users. However, texting and calling are valuable tools even if not accompanied by 12 megapixel cameras and the latest gaming app. The key to the feature phone market has been price and it now looks like the segment is getting a big upgrade in capabilities. Users many not have access to six million Google Play apps, but the availability of thousands of Google Assistant apps may be a more than adequate substitute given the low price point.
Feature Phones Represent a Large Market
You may also want to note that this market is very large. There are 1.3 billion feature phone users. HMD told TechCrunch that it sold 70 million phones in 2017 and that most of them were feature phones. Google Assistant is gaining a large distribution channel.
Not the Only Feature Phone with Google Assistant
The Nokia 8110 4G is not the first feature phone to announce Google Assistant access. JioPhone took that honor in December. It will sell for about one quarter the price at US$23. While it doesn’t appear that JioPhone will have Twitter and Facebook integration like the Nokia 8110 4G and the technical specs may be more modest, this still means Indian consumers will have two sub US$100 feature phone options in 2018 that provide Google Assistant access. And, keep in mind that the Nokia 8110 4G doesn’t run Android. Digital Trends reports:
HMD worked with [Google, Facebook and Twitter] to bring these apps to the phone
That means this business was open for the taking by other voice assistant providers. A key difference here is the interest in accessing Google Maps and Search functionality. It may be that Google’s non-voice assets will be the key in driving broad adoption of Google Assistant by some manufacturers.
A Good Fit for Feature Phones
It turns out that voice assistants are probably an ideal fit for feature phones. It can immediately get the user more access to third party apps and the voice and text interaction are ideal for the small screen size. At the time of the JioPhone announcement, I commented:
Voice is ideal for low functionality devices like feature phones. The lack of a high resolution screen and robust mobile apps means that Google Assistant can provide access to information, services and applications that wouldn’t otherwise be available to these users. Voice access may even make feature phones more desirable by slightly narrowing the feature gap with smartphones.
That about sums it up. You can expect more feature phones to adopt voice assistants over the next few years. Once a few models have the feature, the others will want to include it to maintain competitive parity. It is in Google’s interest to get as much distribution for Google Assistant as possible. Adding Google Assistant to feature phones may just enable the company to serve 1.3 billion global consumers that its competitors have no way to reach. Google announced Friday that Google Assistant will be adding support for 30 new languages in 2018. One of those is Hindi. One of HMD’s biggest markets today for Nokia phones is India. That sounds like perfect timing.