What type of cellphone is it?

I’ve been thinking about how people categorize their phones. Here I mean how people imagine the phones they use to fit into the larger array of available phone types.

In my interviews on what communication technologies people use, and how they use them, a question we often encounter snags on is: “What type of cellphone is it?” [Ano klase hin cellphone?] Interviewees often pause at this point. Many say “simple,” as in your standard or basic cellphone. Others will take out the phone and show me so that I can decide for myself what the type is. I’ve caught myself saying: “Oh, it’s Samsung”, revealing how I understand phones to be categorized. ¬†While some people don’t know their phone by its brand name, however, others do. I’ll get immediate answers of “CherryMobile” or “MyPhone”.

I realize I have only been operating on two categories of cellphone until now: keypad and touchscreen. I am not quite sure why these are the major categories in the way I understand cellphones, and I wonder if it is shared with others. I associate keypad phones with affordability and access to basic services like texting and calling. I associate touchscreen/ smartphones* with access to internet, apps, and other digital content like photos and music.

I’ve noticed that people in what I’ll call a young adult educated middle-class (NGO workers, government workers, educators etc) will often have both a keypad phone and a smartphone. Some people have said they do this because the keypad phone’s battery will last a week, while the smartphone’s charge can only last a day. In a place that experiences frequent brownouts, it is useful to not have to worry about at least being able to contact friends, family, and work. Other times, I’ve seen people with two keypad phones. I’d like to know why. It could be that one phone is for work, or that they use different service providers. Many phones here, however, already offer dual SIM card slots. These are useful for many people to ensure that if reception is hard to find on one service, it will be available in another.

In curiosity, I searched how more technically oriented people might categorize cellphones, and I found this blog post listing particular cellphone innovation from 1983 to 2009. The blog lists only some “popular and unusual” phones, since it would be another project altogether to include the “sheer number” of cellphone models in the world. (A particularly interesting entry for me is the 2003 Nokia 1100 which is, “rumoured to have sold for up to $32,000 in online criminal communities due to its ability to intercept one-time banking passwords.”) I came away from the blog thinking that in a technical perspective, it would still be very hard to categorize cellphones into types. As the blog says, rather these are “evolutions”.

*I’ve started using the word “touchscreen” instead of “smartphone”, because often people think I am talking about the Philippine service provider, SMART.