Why 'smartphone' is a dumb label

Three reasons why everyone should stop using the S word

ABI Research analysts ruffled gadget-enthusiast feathers recently by suggesting that Apple's upcoming iPhone, though "clever and capable" cannot be considered a "smartphone." The reason, they said, was that a smartphone features an "open, commercial operating system that supports third party applications."

Really? Since when?

Most authoritative sources disagree about the definition of the word "smartphone," although nearly all say that it's a phone with PDA and Internet functionality, and say nothing about the "openness" of the OS.

Gartner defines "smartphone" as "A large-screen, voice-centric handheld device designed to offer complete phone functions while simultaneously functioning as a personal digital assistant (PDA)."

Palm's definition is: "A portable device that combines a wireless phone, e-mail and Web access and an organizer into a single, integrated piece of hardware."

I searched a wide range of sources, including all major American technology publishing houses, gadget-book publishers, online dictionaries, encyclopedias, the Wikipedia and others, and not one of them agrees with ABI's requirement that a smartphone by definition runs an open OS that supports third-party software development.

Does that mean the iPhone really is a "smartphone"? Who cares?

The word "smartphone" itself is the problem. The term is misleading, inexact, confusing, practically useless and totally obsolete. Here are three reasons why everyone should stop using the S word:

1. The industry avoids the word 'smartphone'

The pundits, experts and enthusiasts, including us in the press, love to use the word "smartphone." We love it so much we're blind to the fact that vendors in the industry we cover aggressively avoid the term. Here's how the major handset manufacturers categorize their products:

-- Nokia uses: "Camera Phones," "Bluetooth Capable Phones" and "Video Recording Phones."

-- Sony Ericsson uses: "Talk & Text Phones," "Camera Phones," "Music Phones," "Design Phones" and "Web & E-Mail Phones."

-- LG uses: "EVDO Phones," "Bluetooth Phones" and "MP3 Phones."

-- Palm calls all phones "Smartphones."

-- Research in Motion calls all phones "Devices."

-- Samsung and Motorola avoid the categorization of phones altogether.

Join the newsletter!


Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.
Mike Elgan

Mike Elgan

Show Comments


Cygnett 2500 ChargeUp Pocket Lightning Portable Power Bank

Learn more >




TerraCycle Zero Waste Box Pens and Markers Small

Learn more >

Back To Business Guide

Click for more ›

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles


PCW Evaluation Team

Christopher Low

Brother RJ-4230B

This small mobile printer is exactly what I need for invoicing and other jobs such as sending fellow tradesman details or step-by-step instructions that I can easily print off from my phone or the Web.

Aysha Strobbe

Microsoft Office 365/HP Spectre x360

Microsoft Office continues to make a student’s life that little bit easier by offering reliable, easy to use, time-saving functionality, while continuing to develop new features that further enhance what is already a formidable collection of applications

Michael Hargreaves

Microsoft Office 365/Dell XPS 15 2-in-1

I’d recommend a Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 and the new Windows 10 to anyone who needs to get serious work done (before you kick back on your couch with your favourite Netflix show.)

Maryellen Rose George

Brother PT-P750W

It’s useful for office tasks as well as pragmatic labelling of equipment and storage – just don’t get too excited and label everything in sight!

Cathy Giles

Brother MFC-L8900CDW

The Brother MFC-L8900CDW is an absolute stand out. I struggle to fault it.

Luke Hill


I need power and lots of it. As a Front End Web developer anything less just won’t cut it which is why the MSI GT75 is an outstanding laptop for me. It’s a sleek and futuristic looking, high quality, beast that has a touch of sci-fi flare about it.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?