Gen Z is ditching iPhones for $100 'feature phones,' and the numbers don't lie

Gen Z and millennials have become the unlikely heroes to revive the slow-fading phone market in the US, according to Counterpoint Research.
Written by Kerry Wan, Senior Reviews Editor
The Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 5 next to an old flip phone.
June Wan/ZDNET

Earlier this year, it was reported that Gen Z and millennials were putting down their smartphones and picking up flip phones instead. By shutting out the algorithmic social feeds and never-ending wall of videos and embracing the humble, physical T9 keyboard, digital detoxing was achieved.

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What sprouted from a video of TikTok user Sammy K advocating for the digital well-being of the younger generation has apparently tugged just enough heartstrings to uplift a once fading and undervalued phone market, according to analyst firm Counterpoint Research.

"Feature phone sales in the U.S. have rebounded post-2022 due to increased interest by Gen Z and millennials as they look to cut down on screen time," Counterpoint tells ZDNET. "The main point is that feature phone sales will remain very stable over the next years whereas previous assumptions were that feature phone sales would drop as more people adopt smartphones."

The market of feature phones can best be described as retro handsets; think old-school flip and slider phones. By nature, the limited functionality means that feature phones are cheaper than the standard iPhone or Android device, with prepaid options going for as low as $20 and unlocked options just scratching the $100 mark. 

Also: Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 5 breaks records, accounts for 70% of preorders

They're affordable and they get the job done. Counterpoint now forecasts the product category, which currently makes up just 2% of the overall phone market, to reach $2.8 million in sales by the end of 2023, with stable sales continuing in the short term.

U.S. Feature Phone Market Counterpoint Research

Today, virtually every carrier offers some model of a feature phone, with TCL having the most honors.

Counterpoint Research

Counterpoint says the biggest reason for the increase is the influx of users supporting minimalist and digital detox movements, followed by potential B2B sales (with businesses opting for a more cost-effective phone distribution), and tourists and casual consumers who just want a cheap and handy device.

How the sales numbers will hold up over time is unknown, but what's certain is that Gen Z and millennials are TikToking the Tok and walking the walk. I'll see myself out.

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