If you only require a cellphone for making calls, then you don't necessarily need a touch screen, according to a new study.
Indeed, touch screens are not strictly essential for a number of popular activities - be it surfing the web, taking pictures or listening to music. What might be needed is a multimedia mobile. However, the market for these devices is shrinking fast.
That's because for several people, mobiles are becoming anything but phones. Ads focus on how rapidly they can go online, display high-definition video or let the user access graphic-intensive games. Mention of telephone features can nearly be an afterthought.
But, when it comes to multimedia mobiles, making calls and sending text messages remain two of the key functions. Internet access and playing MP3 audio files are also available functions, but are of much lesser importance.
Michael Wolf of Stiftung Warentest, a German consumer products testing organisation, insisted that a mobile needs to fulfil four basic functions to be considered a smartphone.
"For internet surfing, it needs a certain display size and fast internet access via UMTS or wi-fi. Additionally, smartphones have an open operating system that can be expanded with apps," News24 quoted him as saying.
The last requirement is a keyboard with letters. But that does not imply a physical keyboard. The widespread virtual keyboards seen on so many touch screens more than fit the bill.
"The borders between smartphones and multimedia mobiles move a lot."
Of course, it's not as much fun with a smaller display and without a touch screen. Still, many manufacturers offer some programmes and games to download onto older mobiles.
"But there's no comparing that with the offering from Android or Apple devices," Wolf warned.
The wide range of apps and games is one of the reasons for the widespread success of smartphones, he said.
"In the meantime, even older people and those less open to technology are opting for smartphones, because they want a phone with a good MP3 player or a good camera," Wolf noted.
Additionally, anyone who can deactivate the mobile broadcast function and download apps via a wi-fi connection can, theoretically, use them for free.
"Smartphones advanced past regular mobiles a long time ago," said Roland Stehle of the German Society for Entertainment and Communications Technology (gfu).
"And, in the coming years, they're only going to build upon their lead."
But mobiles without apps and all the bells and whistles won't die out, he believes.
"There will always be a certain clientele that prefers these kinds of gadgets," he said.
Multimedia mobiles still maintain a few advantages in terms of better battery life.
Because of smaller display and the weaker processor, they enjoy longer battery lives. And, once a user becomes used to it, he may find typing on a physical keyboard much easier than typing and swiping on a touch screen.
Wolf asserted that a lot relies on the device and the taste of the user.
"Multimedia mobiles are not necessarily new-user friendly. Sometimes the buttons and the controls can be fussy," he said.
There's another benefit with multimedia mobiles. Compared to smartphones, a lot of models are cheaper. But there's not a huge gap in prices, said Rafaela Moehl of the German telecommunications website teltarif.de.
But not many new multimedia models are making it to market.
"Most of the models on sale today are already one or two years old," Moehl said.
In general, those interested should have no problems with multimedia mobiles, according to Stehle.
"The technology is pretty exhausted in these kinds of devices. Classical mobiles won't be making any big technology jumps anymore," he said.
But the new ones being developed are showing some innovation in certain areas like design, since manufacturers are usually inclined to change the materials for cost or efficiency reasons.
However, customers shouldn't expect the quality levels to remain the same, according to Wolf.
"A look at the comparison tests and product reviews is worth it, as always. There are also quality differences with multimedia mobiles," he said.
You might also want to consider getting a flat rate for data transfers if you opt for multimedia, since a lot of classic mobiles also have internet access, Moehl said.
"Even with a regular mobile, I can call up mails or browse," she added.