Define ‘smart-phone’

Posted on March 29, 2012

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I heard something new about this old chestnut of a definition recently. But it’s an old chestnut, make no mistake.

Seven and a half years ago I wrote this piece for silicon.com. Looking back at it I realise it sounds a bit comical. I guess the gist was that the market would grow, there were a few main contenders (Symbian versus the rest!, no Apple, though Android – OK, Linux – does get a mention) and the definition was a phone onto which you could download apps.

We were pretty pleased with that definition in 2004.

Some readers took aim at us for considering a device based on the Palm OS as smart (“You’ve been brainwashed by the Americans!” came one line of attack from the Nordics – not Finland, I should add) but the definition basically held water.

This past weekend I heard another defining characteristic. What shipments and usage tell us in the here and now is that smart-phones all have wi-fi. It sounds simple, even obvious. But it wasn’t that long ago that phones – not PDAs or laptops, mind – didn’t come shipped with wi-fi radios.

And in 2004 ‘smart-phone’ wasn’t a word everyone knew. I wonder when we’ll just call them phones again.

(Next time: When did Americans stop saying ‘cellphone’? Just kidding.)

What else defines a smart-phone? Feel free to have your say.

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Posted in: Technology