Dumbphones in 2024

Kyle Chayka, writing for The New Yorker:

Two years ago, they both tried Apple’s Screen Time restriction tool and found it too easy to disable, so the pair decided to trade out their iPhones for more low-tech devices. They’d heard about so-called dumbphones, which lacked the kinds of bells and whistles — a high-resolution screen, an app store, a video camera — that made smartphones so addictive. But they found the process of acquiring one hard to navigate. “The information on it was kind of disparate and hard to get to. A lot of people who know the most about dumbphones spend the least time online,” Krigbaum said. A certain irony presented itself: figuring out a way to be less online required aggressive online digging.

The couple — Stults is twenty-nine, and Krigbaum is twenty-five — saw a business opportunity. “If somebody could condense it and simplify it to the best options, maybe more people would make the switch,” Krigbaum said. In late 2022, they launched an e-commerce company, Dumbwireless, to sell phones, data plans, and accessories for people who want to reduce time spent on their screens.

Chayka’s story ran under the bold headline “The Dumbphone Boom Is Real”, which is incongruously clickbait-y for The New Yorker:

Stults takes business calls on his personal cell, and on one recent morning the first call came at 5 a.m. (As the lead on customer service, he has to use a smartphone — go figure.) They pack each order by hand, sometimes with handwritten notes. They have not yet quit their day jobs, which are in the service industry, but Dumbwireless sold more than seventy thousand dollars’ worth of products last month, ten times more than in March, 2023. Krigbaum and Stults noticed an acceleration in sales last October, which they speculate may have had something to do with the onslaught of holiday-shopping season. Some of their popular phone offerings include the Light Phone, an e-ink device with almost no apps; the Nokia 2780, a traditional flip phone; and the Punkt., a calculator-ish Swiss device that looks like something designed for Neo to carry in “The Matrix” (which, to be fair, is a movie of the dumbphone era).

$70K/month in sales is legit, but far from a boom.

The two things that get me when I ponder, even for a moment, carrying a dumbphone: audio (podcasts/music) and camera. Pre-iPhone I’d leave the house with both a phone and an iPod, and sometimes a camera too. I actually just bought a new pocket-sized camera last year, but it seems ludicrous to even consider carrying a dedicated device just for audio, and with music streaming, people expect their portable audio player to have always-available networking. Also: AirPods. I’m not going back to wired earbuds, especially in the winter.

Wednesday, 24 April 2024