Yes, it’s a fact: most people own smartphones. One analysis says that 133.7 million own them, which comes to over half of the marketshare of all cell phone users. And the number keeps growing. But what about the other 48.4 percent of cell phone users who don’t have an iPhone or Android, and instead port around some archaic Nokia blue blox? Why can’t they get in on the fun?
A New York-based project called dumbsto.re has an answer to these woes. Dumbsto.re is, well, an app store for dumbphones. And that’s actually a very smart, maybe brilliant concept.
Dumbstore uses the only two features dumbphones have (except for Snake; do dumbphones still have snake?): voice and text. The site contains a list of apps, and if you want to “buy,” that is, partake, you either text or call the phone number provided and enter a keyword to activate the app. This past Saturday it just released the coveted access phone number, meaning the program is now in official beta (my words, not dumbsto.re’s).
Allison Burtch, a student at NYU’s ITP program and one of the brains behind the project, explained that she wanted a platform that everyone could access. “I have a dumbphone but I still want to access internet things,” she told me. “I also think that information should be available to everyone, irrespective of the hardware or software they have.”
Dumbsto.re is all about letting anyone and everyone access technology, no matter how barebones their equipment: “Literally every single mobile phone can use it, because it’s all SMS and calling based,” she says. “It’s also open source, which means people can contribute an app or make our code better and see it on the site soon after.”
This issue Burtch hopes to combat is the waning use value of dumbphones. “We reject the notion of planned obsolescence,” she says. “You shouldn’t need an iPhone to get MTA info.”
There’s something to be said about that. Google no longer supporting SMS searches is a good example of the dumbphone’s planned death. Dumbsto.re is Burtch’s way of reinvigorating the market.
Apps right now include: Google News headlines, currency converter, magic 8 ball, rock paper scissors, random haiku generator, along with others.
My favorite, though, is “dumbwall.” The description reads: “Tag or view a public wall.” So what happens when you text the phone number to get the app? You get a response saying, “a nice clean wall, won’t you tag it?” That’s it. There’s the app. Go on, tag away! (I feel obligated to add that I acquired this app using my iPhone.)
But that’s the beauty of this website. The apps aren’t strictly “for” dumbphone users. They are just now included in the mix. The website claims it’s “The most inclusive mobile app platform. Ever.” And I believe it. In a world where interface and constant re-innovation is supplanting actual content, there’s dumbsto.re that has you text a word to a phone number to receive text-based apps. All you get is pure, unadulterated content, and everyone can access it.
Barebones mobile phone projects aren’t anything new. John’s Phone is a great example and is the most basic mobile phone you can buy. Ever. The phonebook? A small notebook kept in the back of the phone with a pen. Texting? Nope. Seriously, just a phone with numbers to press. That’s it.
Ironically John’s Phone users cannot use dumbsto.re text apps because of their inability to receive texts (John’s phone is just too dumb in some regards, I guess). I do see the two, however, as good examples of ways to embrace minimalist technology. But where John’s Phone is focused more on aesthetics, dumbsto.re is actually making a statement about access and availability.
What’s next for dumbsto.re? It’s looking like more apps and more users. Burtch sees a future where anyone with a dumb phone will use dumbsto.re. In her words, “My goal is for dumbsto.re apps to be easier and more functional than opening a browser.”
Of course, this doesn’t seem to be a business with long-term viability in mind. Rotary phones no longer exist, which are even dumber than dumb phones. But dumbsto.re offers a nice stop gap.
[Illustration by Hallie Bateman]