Lo-res_IS831-021-SMobile devices are ubiquitous, partly because they can do so much. People use them constantly, for a vast range of activities, to such an extent that the notion of a smartphone addiction is widely accepted and identified. For consumers who worry about their level of reliance on their smart devices, an increasingly appealing alternative is to obtain another device, in addition to their primary, technologically advanced smartphone, that purposefully limits the options they can access. When they feel the need to take a break from constant connectivity, they stick the less sophisticated device in their pockets and thus impose limits on themselves.

These simplified devices vary in the range or extensiveness of the limits they impose and the options they enable. Some inexpensive, clam-shell style devices only support calls and texts. Others can receive email and messages but do not support online browsing. Another class of devices provides talk, text, and some convenient app capabilities, such as ride-sharing, GPS, or alarm settings. Yet another option offers virtually all the same operations as the most advanced smart device but contains them in a small phone, such that the small screen makes spending substantial amounts of time interacting with it less appealing to consumers.

These purposeful simplifiers, for the most part, still maintain their primary, advanced smartphones. In most cases, the same phone number applies to both devices, so they do not risk missing any important contacts or calls. However, they might leave the high-end tools at home when they take a weekend getaway or if they plan to spend time with their family. By using their less well-equipped devices, they reduce the powerful pull exerted by constant connectivity and help themselves remain “in the moment.” They also might designate different operations for which they need the sophisticated devices and those that they can perform more simply. For example, one artist relies on her iPhone to post examples of her work to Instagram, but when interacting with her friends and families, she uses a simple, small Punkt phone.

Although less sophisticated devices usually have been marketed toward older users, who may be less familiar or comfortable with advanced technology, the current trends are mainly being driven by younger, digital natives. These consumers seek to take breaks from social media and connectivity, which have always been parts of their lives, as a conscious and proactive consumption, or perhaps anti-consumption, choice.

Of course, such trends do not mean that all mobile devices are going to revert to simpler times. Virtually every device maker continues to pursue more advanced, powerful, sophisticated options. But at the same time, mobile devices are branching out increasingly into different forms, such as wearables and watches, with increased capabilities. A consumer sporting a smartwatch might need less assistance from a smartphone, because many of the functions move from her hand to her wrist.

Overall, these developments may suggest the increasing segmentation of the smart market. Different consumers seek different options and uses, and the smartest of the smart device providers will find ways to get them exactly what they want.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How concerned are you about your smartphone addiction? Would you consider investing in a second device to limit your usage?
  2. What segmentation criteria could companies use to determine which sorts of devices to market to various consumers?


Source: Sarah Krouse, “Smartphone Addicts’ New Tactic to Break Their Habit: Buy a Second Phone,” The Wall Street Journal, March 11, 2019