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TheStreet Open House

Psst! Customers Are Still Buying Cellphones

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- With the relentless coverage of mobile apps, one would think that everyone owns a smartphone.

We're close. But not quite. And we may never be a nation of exclusive smartphone users. Depending who you ask, research puts non smartphone users in the U.S. at around 55% (Pew Research Center), 42% (Business Insider Intelligence) or 40% (Strategy Analytics). In fact, market researcher IDC projects that this year will be the first time ever smartphones out-ship other mobile phones around the world. And only by a smidge -- at 50.1%.

While there will always be Luddites with an aversion to owning a smartphone, most of those who go without do so because of cost or complexity. And a good chunk of the population will probably never own a smartphone, said Neil Shah, senior analyst of Strategy Analytics Global Wireless Practice.

These could include seniors, children, cellular users who cannot afford a data plan or find smartphone too complex," Shah said. "We expect this ratio to decline over the next five years but still there would be a fourth of North America's total population which won't own a smartphone."

This forgotten market may still use a basic cellphone, but just to call somebody. Or a basic feature phone with text messaging. But companies aren't giving up on this minority. Changes are being made to get us to the point where the only people who don't want a smartphone are the ones who don't have one.

Samsung recently added "Easy Mode" to its new Galaxy S4 smartphone. Icons and fonts are larger and the number of screens and apps per screen are limited to diminish confusion.

T-Mobile (TMUS) recently dropped two-year contracts to make it a bit more affordable to sign up and maintain a smartphone plan. Prepaid providers like Virgin Wireless and Straight Talk offers unlimited 3G and 4G data plans starting at $35 and $45 per month, with some caveats.


Through its Ready Now program, Sprint (S) store employees help set up new phones before the customer walks out the door. That includes transferring contacts, setting up email and demonstrating the phone's features.

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