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.

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Mike Elgan

Mike Elgan

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