Feature Phones Get Smart Hardware in Addition to Software
By Eric Lin, Fri Jul 02 22:15:00 GMT 2004

To match their faster processors and advanced software, feature phones now include hardware features first pioneered on smartphones as well.

Motorola and Nokia have tried keyboards in feature phones before, but the phones were bulky and the idea came before its time. Meanwhile keyboards have been key to the acceptance of smartphones, especially PDA style models, beginning with RIM adding telephony to its keyboard-centric models. Since then PalmOne's Treos has helped to make phones with QWERTY keyboards wildly popular. And third party add-on keyboards have been developed for just about every smartphone on the market. T-Mobile has announced Microsoft will enter the fray with the new MDA 3. It will be the first Pocket PC phone with a keyboard, while VOQ will fill in gaps on Microsoft's smartphone.

This year feature phones with keyboards have caught up to those without. The Nokia 6820 has all the popular features of today's high end phones, and hides a keyboard inside a tiny body. Motorola has followed suit with the new A630, which hides a large color screen as well as a QWERTY keyboard inside a small feature phone. Whether or not the youth are adept at entering text on a numeric keypad, models with keyboards are expected from most major manufacturers within a year.

As data becomes more integral to feature phones, displaying it becomes as important as entering it. The screen in the A630 is 176x220 pixels, a size popularized by Microsoft and Symbian smartphones. Motorola is launching a number of feature phones that use this larger screen. Sharp offers a 240 x 320 (QVGA) screen on it's GX series. Sony Ericsson is also launching a model with a QVGA screen later this year. High end phones from nearly every phone manufacturer have seen an incremental increase in screen size over the past year, even if it's not up to a full smartphone resolution.

Bigger screens and more processing power also mean that fast graphics-intensive game play is possible on these new handsets. Nokia's N-Gage game deck is based on Symbian Series 60, but new game centric models are being launched as feature phones. Sony Ericsson is touting the skills of its K700 as a game platform. Motorola has a strong player coming out for Nextel (and most likely Boost) called i860. Today Samsung announced a new feature phone with a 3D engine and game-optimized joystick and button pad. New Java extensions have been recently been adopted to bring 3D games to even more feature level handsets soon.

The Yankee Group predicts that smartphones will eventually outsell all other models in data-centric regions like Western Europe. However if feature phones continue add smart phone abilities at a lower price, who will spend the extra money for a smartphone? Is the power of a full operating system (as opposed to a Java engine) enough to lure more users to a smarter platform?