Facebook is getting serious about mobile and focusing on the 80 percent or so of the world that doesn't have a smartphone. It's a good move considering all the growth markets---Latin America, Russia, China and India---typically have feature phones.
The social network has outlined a new mobile app that will open Facebook up to more than 2,500 devices around the world. You could call it the Facebook conquest of the feature phone.
While most folks focus on smartphones because that's where the growth is, the reality is feature phones are about 75 percent to 80 percent of the market depending on what research firm (Gartner, IDC or comScore) you cite.
For instance, Gartner reported that 417 million phones were shipped in the third quarter and smartphones accounted for about 20 percent of them. If you want to tackle markets in China, India and Latin America you need feature phones. If you want global growth, you need feature phones. And if you want the biggest mobile footprint on the planet you need feature phones.
In a blog post, Facebook said its mobile app will work on Nokia, Sony Ericsson and LG phone. In a nutshell, Facebook is making a global carrier play to reach all those folks outside the U.S.
We also wanted to make it available to as many people as possible. Similar to the 0.facebook.com site, we've worked with mobile operators from around the world to let you try this without paying for any data charges. The 14 mobile operators listed below are offering free data access when using the new Facebook mobile app during the first 90 days after they launch.
The big question to me is why this feature phone focus took so long. Given the sheer numbers involved, it would make more sense to focus on feature phones as well as the smart ones. In addition, Facebook may find ways to conserve on data consumption by playing with feature phones.
You can expect other app makers to at least ponder the feature phone route because the numbers are huge. Facebook is thinking world domination and you need feature phones to get there. Gartner analyst Carolina Milanesi has highlighted the need for non-3G devices. In fact, "white box" phone makers are gaining share in the mobile phone race as they churn out commodity phones. That's only going to continue. Facebook gets it: The real growth may be in the dumb phones.