Sales of basic-feature phones are being sustained by consumers who want to “digitally detox“, according to Finnish company HMD Global, which makes and sells cellphones under the Nokia brand.

The Nokia 3310, which HMD revived in early 2017 soon after buying the licence for Nokia’s phones and tablets from Microsoft, “has got nice momentum” in SA, HMD GM for southern Africa Shaun Durandt told Business Day.

“It grows legs as it goes. We have discussions with various partners in SA as an example, and it doesn’t look like [demand for] that product is subsiding,” Durandt said.

Overwhelmed by constant engagements with smartphones, many consumers were choosing to use feature phones over weekends or holidays.

Since feature phones had long battery lives, of up to a month, consumers were also buying these phones to keep in their cars for emergencies.

The 3310 and many of its peers do not support applications such as WhatsApp.

According to research and advisory firm Gartner, worldwide sales of smartphones fell for the first time in the fourth quarter of 2017.

Smartphone sales surpassed feature-phone sales for the first time in 2013.

About 408-million smartphones were sold in the three months to December 2017, 5.6% down on the year before. This was because of a slowdown in upgrades from feature phones to smartphones, and sales of “quality” feature phones, Gartner said.

“People are actively looking at ways to manage the pervasiveness of technology.”

Justin Maier, vice-president of HMD for sub-Saharan Africa, said there was still “a huge market” for feature phones in many markets. Earlier in 2018, Nokia relaunched the 8110 4G phone on the premise that “feature phones could be a big category”. However, Maier said the adoption of feature phones had gained more traction in Europe, — “where people just want weekend phones”, than in SA.

“People are actively looking at ways to manage the pervasiveness of technology.”

Meanwhile, Durandt said HMD wanted to make Nokia the third-biggest smartphone company in Africa and globally.

To get there, it will have to usurp Chinese maker Huawei, which trails Samsung and Apple, according to Garnter’s data.

Huawei said in March it had increased its global market share through 2017.

“Huawei and Honor [a Huawei subbrand] smartphones together secured more than 10% of global market share,” the Shenzhen-based group said in its annual results.

“We are now firmly positioned among the top three phone makers in the world,” the group said.

In Latin America, the Middle East and Africa, Huawei held a 15% share of the smartphone market, it said.

“In key countries including the UAE, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Mexico and Colombia, Huawei ranked in the top three for brand consideration, and the gap between Huawei and the top two brands continues to shrink,” said Huawei.