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Japan's flip-phone love affair continues, smartphone shipments fall

Mat Smith, @thatmatsmith
February 17, 2015
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In an alternate universe where up is down and black is white, more feature phones get shipped year-on-year while its replacement, the smartphone, sees sales stall. That's apparently what happened in Japan last year though, according to MM Research Institute. For the first time in seven years, flip-phone shipments grew -- and grew by 5.7 percent to a hard-to-comprehend 10.58 million units. In the same year, smartphones units shipped fell 5.3 percent, down to 27.7 million. Flip-phones still make up a surprisingly large proportion of phone sales in Japan and it's actually the second year in a row that the market research firm has noted a drop in smart device sales. MM Research's Hideaki Yokota told Reuters: "Smartphones are also peaking in terms of functionality and they tend to last a long time as well, so there are fewer renewals."

He added that last year was a strong year for renewals within the subscription cycle; people were looking to replace their presumably very old flip-phone and so this could just be one final hurrah for the flip phone. While the usual reasonings of an aging society and the culture of "galapagos phones", expressly designed for Japan, get wheeled out, there some easier to understand reasons why people cling to the feature phone series.

With a lack of touchscreen (even a new high-end flip-phone, coming soon with 4G LTE and access to Android apps can only be controlled through buttons), and generally smaller displays, the battery life (compared to smartphones), is far more manageable. Also, with some of the most expensive mobile phone contracts in the world, flip-phone contracts are notably cheaper -- because well, you're probably not going to use much data.

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