Flip phones and other "dumbphones" new tech trend

As we learn more about the addictive nature of smartphones, some people are going back to a flip phone. But is it going to catch on?

Several celebrities recently spotted using flip phones, including Rihanna and Kim Kardashian

Large electronics companies are releasing new devices that are either flip phones or a lessened version of a smartphone, sometimes referred to as a "dumbphone." (Koichi Kamoshida/Getty Images)

According to figures from Statistics Canada, 94 per cent of those surveyed between the ages of 15 and 34 own a smartphone. Figures like that that make it difficult to imagine a massive reversal in smartphone usage, but that could be what's happening with flip phones or "dumbphones" gaining popularity.

Sara Martin uses her iPhone all the time, despite curbing her social media use in an attempt to limit how often she checks her device. She is aware of how it affects her life and concerned for how it will impact her daughter in the future.

"There's enough out there now that has pointed to some of the dangers, the addictive properties of smartphone use," says Martin. "My daughter, she's young now, but at some point, she's going to want a cell phone, and I can't deny her that; I can't cut her off from her peer group. But what I can do is I can get her a flip phone."

Flip phones re-emerge in pop culture

It's an idea that's gaining traction. In recent weeks, several celebrities sported a flip phone, including Rihanna, Daniel Day-Lewis, and Kim Kardashian.

Large electronics companies are releasing new devices that are either flip phones or a lessened version of a smartphone, sometimes referred to as a "dumbphone." Samsung, for example, created the Galaxy J2 Pro, a smartphone that can't connect to the internet. The company says it is designed for students so they can focus more on their studies.

Geoffrey Fowler, a personal technology columnist for The Wall Street Journal, decided it was enough of a trend to offer a segment on how to choose a simpler phone.

"It's okay to not use a smartphone. In fact, if you don't want one, you're not alone," says Fowler. "Whether you're on a budget, seeking security, preparing for emergencies, or just looking to unplug, I'll help you find the right basic phone."

Dumbphones make good companions for smartphones

Daniel Bader is a Canadian technology analyst who says we aren't going back in time, but believes demand for these devices will increase for a different purpose.

"It's something that people are trying to do to spend more time in meaningful interactions, rather than being with people and staring at their phones," says Bader. "If we do see any meaningful increase in the sales of dumbphones over the next couple of years, it won't be as replacements but as augments to smartphones."

If we do see any meaningful increase in the sales of dumbphones over the next couple of years, it won't be as replacements but as augments to smartphones.- Daniel Bader 

In other words, a second phone. Something that enables you to be in contact when needed, but less distracted overall. In fact, Bader says he envisions more of the "Light Phone," a small, basic phone that connects to your smartphone and adds your contacts, but can only make phone calls.

Mindfulness the ultimate solution

Bader says in the wake of stories about the harmful effects of addictive smartphone use and even the recent Facebook data breach, he understands there is a backlash. But in the tech world, they don't usually last.

"Like people rejecting Facebook and Twitter temporarily, they will eventually come back to using a smartphone just in a more concerted and deliberate way, being mindful of how much they're using their phone and how much they're staring at their screen every day," he says.

I think if you are conscious of the reasons...you don't have to go to the extreme of the late '90s to have a cell phone.- Sara Martin

For Sara Martin, mindful use of a smartphone is the best long-term option.

"I think if you are conscious of the reasons why you're using a smartphone and the amount of time and the way in which you're engaging with it, you don't have to go to the extreme of the late '90s to have a cell phone."

About the Author

Jason Osler

Jason Osler is the national 'trends' columnist for CBC Radio.

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