Redefining the Smartphone

Discussion in 'Headline News' started by Antoine Wright, Jan 29, 2009.

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  1. Antoine Wright

    Antoine Wright Neighborhood Mobilist Super Moderator

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    Devices like the iPhone, Samsung Instinct, LG Dare, and various others are starting to turn our concept of what a "smartphone" is on its head. It's time to accept that our old definition is no longer valid.

    We should come up with a new one, one that takes into account more than just the device's features, but also what these products enable us to do.

    Out with the Old

    The old definition for smartphones is based entirely on its feature set:

    Smartphone are cellular-based mobile devices which utilize an operating system that allows for the addition of natively-written third-party applications and are created on a PC-like architecture

    This definition was once easy to establish. Smartphones were simply priced higher and did more than their conventional PDA and feature-phone cousins. From Wi-Fi access to GPS, they pretty much set the standard for what people wanted to do with mobile devices.

    Of course, having cutting-edge technologies also meant that many times users were the "beta tester" for something that would be rolled out at a lower price later on. Therefore, owning a smartphone became synonymous with becoming your own IT department. From simple tasks such as looking for third-party software, to more complicated ones such as updating the operating system, smartphone users had a lot of responsibility.

    Nevertheless, devices that were easy to use, priced right, or just feature packed -- from the BlackBerry to Palm's Treo line to the HTC Touch -- became the poster children for the smartphone.

    In with the New

    And then something happened, other devices started getting the same abilities that these vaunted smartphones had. No longer were high megapixel cameras, or even Wi-Fi and third-party applications, the sole providence of smartphones. These "lower" devices, usually running some proprietary operating system, started doing the same things that smartphones do, and at a lower price.

    So what makes the previous class of devices "smartphones" but not the newer ones? Hence my call for redefining what a smartphone is.

    Despite the similar features that can be boasted by all mobile phones, smartphones are valued because they enable connectivity across several services, usually driven by some aspect of cellular or wireless data, and do so with web browsers and other components that are fairly well advanced.

    My proposed new definition is this:

    Smartphones are mobile devices which utilize cellular and wireless software to enhance the user experience of mobile-enabled services by connecting to those services by direct ties into the operating system and hardware of the mobile device.

    Simple speaking, this expands the definition to not just say that a device can install a third-party application, but that application also takes advantages of hardware and software features specific to that device to enhance the mobile experience.

    Using this definition, we can say that devices that boast GPS-receivers are smartphones. Devices that have only Assisted-GPS receivers, though, would not be counted because all mobile devices have this, and there is usually no way for software to tap into this feature.

    Using this definition we can also say operating systems continue to play a part in mobile devices, but as an enabler more than a definition. Operating systems that do not allow developers to access APIs to extend mobile functionality through third-party software would have to be considered closed, and therefore devices running them would be nothing more than featurephones.

    Sure, its a tough definition when you look at it. But if you think about it, smartphones have always had a tight definition and focus. Within the confines of this new definition exists the ability for smartphones to once again carry that banner of innovation and forward thinking, and at the same time integrate those ideas of connectivity that the Web 2.0 movement has brought to mainstream attention.

    Would you favor such a change in definition? And if so, what devices would make/not-make your list?
     
  2. JRakes

    JRakes NOT your Average Joe

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    You know my preference (or lack thereof) for a smartphone, but I think you're correct, A. Interestingly, though, from my perspective, your new definition is, in a very broad and general way, what I've always thought a smartphone was. Of course, given my lack of experience with the devices, I probably didn't realize the narrowness of the definition as used by some folks.

    My presumption all along has been that any device referred to as a smartphone has been rather fully connected (by whatever system and technology was applicable) and expandable to meet the users' needs / wants.

    It's neither here nor there, and my entire perception might very well have been "off-target" all along. But I find it humorously ironic that my concept of a smartphone might warrant a redefining of the genre... :D:D:D
     
  3. hal

    hal itchy and cold feet hal

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    Antoine, I differ in your definition of the original smartphone, but I restrain to post the one I used to know, because the focus of your thread is look into the future. OK, looking back is needed, but a Byzantine discussion is not needed to find consensus.

    Your initial post gathers a lot of things happening in recent years. I want to focus on a paragraph:

    "Despite the similar features that can be boasted by all mobile phones, smartphones are valued because they enable connectivity across several services, usually driven by some aspect of cellular or wireless data, and do so with web browsers and other components that are fairly well advanced."

    This is what you take as ground zero for the present and forthcoming. And on, from said paragraph, I'd propose:

    Smartphones are mobile devices which utilize cellular and wireless connections to concentrate services and information in the hands of the user, with a strong emphasis, in general guidelines, in making the information arrive to the user, instead of allowing the user to go after it. Besides, they are mobile computational platforms, versatile enough to adapt to a wide array of users, needs and interests.

    This very last set of features is the whole thing behind the mobile office concept usually related to the smartphone, and the managerial features usually expected from it.

    Smartphones are different from common cellphones in that 1. they span far more services and connection possibilities that the latter; and 2. they do not focus in plain phone services, but focus in being the mobile concentration of data and information for the user, (& now just as you post) across several services.
     
  4. Ashton

    Ashton Dell Axim X51v Advocate

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    I might add that as of now, Smartphones run one of the following OSes:
    Symbian OS from Symbian Ltd.
    iPhone OS from Apple Inc.
    RIM BlackBerry operating system
    Windows Mobile from Microsoft
    Linux operating system
    Palm OS developed by PalmSource
    Binary Runtime Environment for Wireless (BREW)
    Android from Google

    It might be interesting to note that until recently (sometime in the last year) MS claimed that only a device running Windows CE/Windows Mobile was a Smartphone and that they coined the term --- this page has mysteriously vanished from their site now...

    Also am I wrong, or isn't BREW a Java platform used by Moto (among others) for dumbphones?
     
  5. Ed Hardy

    Ed Hardy TabletPCReview Editor Staff Member

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    It seems to me you're attempting to define a smartphone as a device that runs one of a specific group of operating systems. For example, if it runs Windows Mobile, it is therefore a smartphone.

    What's Antoine's trying to do here is define smartphone in a different way. Basically, a smartphone is a device that acts in a certain way, no matter what operating system it runs.

    By his definition, while it's true that many of devices that run the operating systems you list are smartphones, not all of them are. And there are smartphones that run OSes that aren't on this list.

    While there's no doubt your definition is simpler and easier to use, it excludes some worthwhile models.
    -
     
    Last edited by a moderator: May 18, 2015
  6. questionfear

    questionfear Google'd.

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    IIRC, BREW is used by verizon wireless, but other carriers use a different form of Java. Back in my feature phone days, I remember there being caveats to installing google maps, etc; if you used a BREW phone from VZW you couldn't install it, but you could if you had a plain Java phone.
     
  7. hal

    hal itchy and cold feet hal

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    I agree on the feature that a smartphone can't be confined to the leading OSs of these times. In this aspect, I want to point out that a smartphone needs to be a computational platform open, or wide, enough so that its capabilities span far beyond the cellphone side of the device. Even if there were a proprietary OS in a single model, as long as it follows the rest of the guidelines of smartphones, it'll be one.

    For instance, a Moto SLVR can admit a lot of apps, but by far it ain't a smartphone, in that it may work as the lousiest of all PDAs, can be synced to a computer but such sync doesn't cover a stable behavior in the mid-term and that it can hardly engage mobile services past the regular cellphone services.

    OTOH, a Palm TX can have lots of the features, but lacks the cellphone side of it.
     
  8. Ashton

    Ashton Dell Axim X51v Advocate

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    I do see the folly of this deffinition (on a related note, only a device running Tablet PC OS was a UMPC untill recently too ;) lol)

    I might add that it needs data management abilities inherant, not by use of 3rd party software (with enough 3rd party apps, dumbphones can become rudamentary PDAs, as you noted, Hal)

    "lots of the features"? Major PDA lines like the Ipaq and Axim can use ALL features minus cellular services (and technically these can be there too if you add a CF cell modem and skype)
     
  9. hal

    hal itchy and cold feet hal

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    INDEED! Given suitable peripherals and apps, a TX, an iPaq, an Axim, can be used as a base to build a smartphone. AAMOF, I bet this focus was followed to create devices as the Treos and all the WM smartphones constellation.

    However, let me point out, Ashton, that the sense of smartphone discussed here is intended to follow what is to come next as a whole device, not what we can tinker of. Yes, your post is valuable because it states the dissection of one portion of the smartphone, say the computational platform, and I just agree with you in this side, but let's go on into what can be achieved in a complete package.

    <I bet you'd join me into demanding a phone-enabled TX, or iPaq, from their manufacturers :) Sad thing it never happened>
     
  10. Matt J

    Matt J Mobile Deity

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    Perhaps even the term "smartphone" is outdated? I use my Treo 680 more for SMS, e-mail, web and PIM's than I do for talking.

    Isn't a "smartphone" just a connected pocket computer (i.e. pC) (notice the small "p").
     
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