Feature phones get app smart

Still not using a smartphone? Here's a list of must-have apps for feature phones

Even though the smartphone market is gaining ground, the Indian market for feature, or low-end, phones with basic multimedia and Internet capabilities and T9 keypads, stood at a whopping 78% of the total mobile phone market in the fourth quarter of 2013, according to research firm International Data Corp.’s “Asia Pacific Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker" report, released in February.

Social networks like Facebook recognized this market very early. In 2011, Facebook built the app Facebook For Every Phone, which manages to deliver a smartphone-like Facebook experience on about 3,000 different types of feature phones. “Within a span of two years, there are now more than 100 million people using Facebook For Every Phone each month across the world," says Kevin D’Souza, country growth manager, Facebook India.

Hyderabad-based Sam Rufus Nallaraj, chief executive officer of Mxit India Pvt. Ltd, the creator of the popular African chat app Mxit, believes the subcontinent has the potential for apps that work on both feature and smartphones. “Of the 1.2 billion people in India, over 900 million-plus have cellphones, but only 250 million-plus of them have smartphones. Over 550 million-plus have feature phones. The market in India belongs to the app that works seamlessly across both feature phones and smartphones."

If you are one of those who love the tiny screens and click-click buttons, but would like to sometimes communicate with fellow social network addicted human beings, choose from the apps listed below for your not-so-smart phone.


Updated with the latest version in March, the Mini is the most popular Web browser for feature phones—it has almost 250 million users, with India being one of its largest user bases.

Opera’s servers compress most of the data, leaving the limited RAM in your feature phone free. It compresses each page to as little as 10% of its original size, saving the data for the user and putting less load on the memory. Also, Web pages tend to open faster than usual, even on slower connections. Opera also integrates Facebook and Twitter updates inside its browser, so you can see them instantly without using a separate app. The download manager has the pause feature. The private browsing feature lets you check sites without leaving a trace of the activity, and the night mode dims the screen and uses darker colours for browsing that are easier on the eye.

M.opera.com; free on Java, BlackBerry, Symbian, iOS and Android


Launched here in January, Mxit comes from South Africa, where it has been a popular chatting alternative to SMS since 2005. Written in Java code, the app works on over 8,000 phones and tablets—almost anything you will find in the market that has a 2G connection. Mxit uses less than 1.5 MB data to download. The chat app lets you doodle on photographs, record and send audio clips, chat privately as well as in groups, and to all virtual chat rooms. “Our many-to-many group chat feature is unique," says Nallaraj. You can also create customized apps and games inside Mxit’s chat platform and converse in 11 Indian languages.

Get.mxit.com; free on Java, Android, Windows Phone and iOS


Launched in May, mBuddy is a chat app by MTS India which brings instant messaging service to its consumers. It can be used for sending messages, sharing photographs and audio files in all CDMA phones, non-Android dual-SIM handsets and 4G devices. The app takes about 100-150 KB of space on feature phones and works on the Java Brew platform.

Mtsindia.in; 15 a month. It is available on all CDMA phones, non-Android dual-SIM handsets and 4G devices.


Updated in May, Bubbly, a voice-based social network, aims to give feature-phone users a network where they can follow their friends and listen to their audio posts as well as record posts themselves and listen to updates from them. In India, that means you can listen to voice bytes from Bollywood actors like Salman Khan and Amitabh Bachchan as well as cricket idols like Sachin Tendulkar. You can record and send 90-second voice clips to your connected family and friends. The app sends you SMS notifications each time there’s a voice post in the list you’re following. To install, you need to dial your carrier’s short code and you will be prompted by a voice menu to use the service.

Bubbly.net; free to follow family and friends, 30 a month to follow a celebrity. The app is available on Java, Android and iOS

Facebook for Every Phone

Meant for feature phones, Facebook For Every Phone works on more than 3,000 feature phones. It comes pre-installed in Nokia Asha devices and works on most other feature phones. The basic version of your Facebook experience, Facebook For Every Phone lets you browse through your newsfeed, check messages and photographs, upload new images, posts and find new friends using your address-book contacts. The app, which was launched in 2011, saw worldwide downloads reach 100 million in July 2013. The app is available in Hindi and seven other local languages—Gujarati, Tamil, Malayalam, Kannada, Punjabi, Bangla and Marathi.

D.fb.me; free and available for most phones and platforms


How about browsing the Internet offline with just an SMS? Txtbrowser does exactly that. An SMS-based search engine, Txtbrowser was launched in 2012 and achieved 300 million hits worldwide in 2013. It answers a query sent in English through an SMS with information from the Web. The query can be on anything—finding the closest pizza place, how to make chocolates, or get driving directions. Txtbrowser scans over a few million pages of information online every day to keep its index up to date. For those who are wondering, you will never get a response with a series of links. Just an answer.

Txtbrowser.com; price starting at 1 per query. The app is available on Airtel, Vodafone, Docomo, Idea, Reliance and BSNL


Like to read on the go but find it difficult on your feature phone? Updated in May, Newshunt might be your answer. The reading app provides news and books in a clean, easy-to-read layout. Available for more than 5,000 kinds of phones, the app offers content of over 100 newspapers and magazines in English as well as some Indian languages—Hindi, Marathi, Gujarati, Tamil, Punjabi, Bangla, Kannada, Telugu, Oriya and Malayalam. “Though cheap Android phones are flooding the market, Java phones continue to be an important part for us," says Bangalore-based Vishal Anand, chief product officer, Newshunt. Keeping that in mind, Anand and his team have released a latest update for the Nokia Asha devices.

M.newshunt.com; free on Java, Android, Windows Phone, iOS, Symbian and BlackBerry