Why 'smartphone' is a dumb label

Three reasons why everyone should stop using the S word

How about the carriers?

-- Sprint uses: "Multimedia Phones," "Video Phones," "Picture Phones" and "PDA Phones."

-- Cingular uses: "Camera Phones," "Music Phones," "Gophone," "PDAs / Smartphones" and "Flip Phones."

-- T-Mobile uses: "Bar Phones," "Flip Phones," "Slider Phones" and "Sidekicks."

-- Verizon uses: "Cell Phones," "PDAs & Smartphones," "Blackberry Devices" and "Push-To-Talk Phones."

Only Cingular and Verizon use "smartphone." But notice this: Both companies add "PDAs" to the smartphone label, even though neither sells non-phone PDAs. Apparently, the initials "PDA" are required in order to clarify to the public what a "smartphone" is. "Smartphone" cannot stand alone as a clear descriptor of what phones do.

Palm is the only handset maker that uses the term, but uses it for all its phones. The company doesn't use it to categorize different classes of Palm phones.

Here's the shocking, bottom-line result of my survey: Not a single major handset vendor or carrier uses "smartphone" by itself to differentiate to customers one kind of phone from another.

What does that tell us about the clarity and usefulness of "smartphone" as a category?

2. The line between "smartphones" and regular phones is blurred.

When "smartphone" came into vogue, entire sets of features -- PIM (Personal Information Manager) functionality and, later, Internet access -- all went together in this kind of phone, and none of these features was available in "regular" phones.

Back then, the only thing you could do with a cell phone was make calls. Then along came a radical new class of super phones. An enormous gulf separated the two types, which forced us to come up with a way to differentiate them. The handset universe was clearly binary.

Even as recently as five years ago, you could take the most advanced cell phone and place it side-by-side with the dumbest "smartphone," and the difference between the two would be vast. They looked different. They worked different. And their list of features was utterly incomparable.

But that world is gone forever. Most "high-end" features, such as e-mail, IM, games, video, camera, FM radio and speakerphone, can be found in cheap phones most analysts would not consider "smartphones."

Phone choices now are the opposite of binary. There is a near perfect gradation starting with the most austere, feature-poor phone, moving up gradually through hundreds of options right up to the most feature-rich phones. And some of those phones at the very high end are not considered "smartphones" by the experts.

Consider, for example, the US$199.99 LG enV, available through Verizon. It supports Bluetooth 2.0. You can use it as a laptop modem. It plays MP3 files and video files in stereo. You can sync it with your PC. Its calendar and e-mail application supports vCard. Its 2-megapixel camera has auto focus and a flash. It has a speakerphone, text-to-speech capability, speaker-independent voice recognition and voice-recording. The feature list goes on and on: QWERTY keyboard, turn-by-turn navigation, wireless sync and microSD support.

This phone isn't considered a "smartphone" by most industry analysts. Why? Because third-party applications for phones like this must be written to support BREW or Java, rather than natively.

Try explaining that to your average phone buyer.

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