Powerful Smartphones with fast mobile connections to great web services

What is a Smartphone?

, posted: 28-Jan-2010 00:35

In a few hours Apple will finally be revealing all about their new tablet and probably an updated iPhone OS amongst other amazing things. So I'm going to get in quick with this blog before everything I thought I knew about the known universe is turned upside down.

Many of us are asked by colleagues, friends and family "What is a Smartphone" and I have to admit that I struggle with a simple answer. You can either provide a usage definition or a feature list definition. I am going to provide both and then a list of what I consider to really be Smartphones available today in NZ.

A usage definition would go something like: "A Smartphone is a mobile device that can be used like a standard mobile phone and can also effectively provide access to a range of internet content and services,  some of which are specifically designed for mobile devices such as location based social networking. It can also store and playback multi-media content like music, photos and video." 

I'd like to add something that captures the emotion better like "and it completely blows you away every time you use it that the future is really here now and it's kind of magical how you can connect to the web over the air". But it's hard to make that sound credible isn't it? 

Below is a featurelist that I think is now required for a Smartphone but this is really only valid for the moment, i.e. as of early 2010. It is quite likely that new features will be added to this list in the near future. 

Smartphone Features:
- Operating system with SDK (iPhone, Android, Windows Mobile, BlackBerry, Palm webOS, Symbian, LiMo)
- Large high-resolution screen (at least 480 x 320 pixels)
- QWERTY keyboard for effective data entry - either physical or touch-screen
- Data networking - HSPA and WiFi
- GPS and built-in mapping software
- Sensors: Accelerometer (critical for full screen device), Digital Compass
- 3.2MP+ camera (5.0MP probably expected now with 8.1 in next 3-6 mnths)
- Video recording capable (720p probably expected in next 3-6 mnths)
- Excellent web browser with quick rendering and sensitive user controls to expand/reduce page size
- Excellent email client incl. Contact & Calendar applications - tied to a cloud synch service (Mobile Me, Google, MS Windows Live)
- Media Player for music, photos and video
- 8GB minimum of storage (either on-board of via expansion cards)
- Application distribution mechanism and wide choice of applications including games that take advantage of the hardware
- Can be connected to a laptop or PC/Mac to act as a mobile modem (also called 'tethering').

And while MS Exchange support is important it's only needed by Corporate users.

So drumroll please...here are the Smartphones available today in NZ (excl. parallel imported or grey market) - in no particular order:

- Apple iPhone
- HTC Magic Android.

That's it - a very small list. Now here are some honourable mentions that are only really let down by their (default) web-browsers which I don't think are good enough for everyday regular use:

- BlackBerry Bold and Storm (although Contacts & Calendar synching isn't great for non-email server users)
- Nokia N97
- HTC Touch Pro2.

Still a pretty small list. 

Of course not everyone needs a Smartphone, there are plenty of other mobile devices that have a number of these features or they focus on specific features like a very high resolution camera (Samsung, Sony Ericsson).

And let's not forget that the cheapest of the devices listed above is $749 (HTC Magic). However things are going to get interesting when we see devices with all the features listed above come down to $599 or even sub-$500. This may not be too far away.

Other related posts:
Brands producing apps only for iPhone
Steve Jobs: Rock Star!
The features Kiwis miss out on with Android 1.6

Permalink to What is a Smartphone? | Add a comment (8 comments) | Main Index

Comment by stuzzo, on 28-Jan-2010 06:35

So you've defined what you think is a smartphone and then decided only two meet the criteria?

I think Wikepedia does it better:  "A smartphone is a mobile phone offering advanced capabilities, often with PC-like functionality (PC-mobile handset convergence). There is no industry standard definition of a smartphone."

Comment by freitasm, on 28-Jan-2010 08:06

I think you are pushing it to make it fits just a few devices. While the browsing experience is not the best in the world, the Windows Mobile device you listed actually is very capable.

Actually one of the problems is that Microsoft put too much in there to make it work smoothly. I am currently using a LG eXpo with a 1GHz Snapdragon CPU and Internet Explorer mobile is very usable. Again, Microsoft waiting for Moore's Law to catchup instead of making something that will run on current hardware.

Comment by eracode, on 28-Jan-2010 08:18

Don't forget the Nokia 5800 XM. It does all the things you mention and has a great 3.2" 640x320 screen. Also, as of last weekend, now has totally free, pin-point accurate turn-by-turn GPS navigation courtesy of Nokia that works like dream. I have had one for about nine months and it's brilliant. Cost me about $750 at the time but I beleive they're now down to about $400/$450?

Author's note by timmyh, on 28-Jan-2010 08:49

Yes I appreciate it is a very tight definition and I was looking at devices on the market today, not the host of legacy.
You could say that this definition is closer to what Google recently called "Superphones" just that I don't really like that name.
And to me the browser quality is critical - I use it a lot on my mobile and anything less than excellent I find very frustrating.
I'm not saying everyone needs or wants a Smartphone but if you do I am saying that not many qualify - yet...

Comment by freitasm, on 28-Jan-2010 08:56

The game changed today... The Apple iPad will push the Apple iPhone up the smartphone chain. It will kill the Windows Mobile as a consumer device, and will make Symbian act as a "feature phone" only...

Author's note by timmyh, on 28-Jan-2010 10:03

I;m seeing a lot of negative comments around the iPad but I don't thing that's warranted. 
I also suspect it is aimed at opening up these type of devices to another demographic - over 50's. Wealthy, and lots of them.

Comment by MikeyPI, on 28-Jan-2010 11:39

More nonsense... 
the iphone wasnt a smartphone until 3.0, and is still handicapped unless jailbroken, and leaving off Blackberries because of the default browser?!? Moronic
I think you built your own defintion to fit your own ideas, and left off the one of the most important things that would take your wee pet iphone off the list, multitasking..

Author's note by timmyh, on 30-Jan-2010 11:30

Hey MikeyPI - be cool!
I agree that multi-tasking is problematic on the iPhone, and now even more so on the iPad. I personally prefer Android just for this reason - and cause Google services are free vs. US$99 for Mobile Me from Apple.
But no matter how tight you want to define it the iPhone was the game changer that has blown open the Smartphone market to move into the mainstream. BlackBerry has done an OK job in the business space but will struggle to move beyond this, and is even fighting a rearguard action there.
Apple market momentum is a juggernaut and every other OS/OEM is really struggling to keep up. 

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Tim Hayward
New Zealand

Former 'Head of Smartphones' at Vodafone New Zealand Marketing from 2006 to 2009. Looked after all key Smartphone platforms, mobile pricing plans, marketing and sales GTM activity.

Now working on mobile application development consulting and delivery especially on projects requiring support across multiple mobile platforms (iPhone, Android, BlackBerry, Symbian). Please contact me if you have any projects you'd like us to consult or quote on: tim@hayward.net.nz