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David Pogue posed the question a few days ago and it’s already starting to cause a bit of a stir.
We’ve had this discussion before. What is a smartphone? If you agree that a smartphone is a phone that does real email, then basically every Japanese mobile is a smartphone, but to most people that doesn’t sound right.

Over the last few years, “Smartphone” has taken on an impression of a high end, premium geek phone. A Blackberry, iPhone, or Android phone that can do more than just communicate, but allows the user interact with the internet and world at large. Simply giving a regular cell phone a better screen, an email compatible SMS and a walled garden to surf around just doesn’t fill my expectation of “Smart”. That said, I think that David was right that the name is just too limited now.

“Smartphone” is too limited. A smartphone is a cellphone with e-mail — an old BlackBerry, a Blackjack, maybe a Treo. This new category — somewhere between cellphones and laptops, or even beyond them — deserves a name of its own.

With all the new phones due to hit the market soon, I agree we need to start differentiating these high-end phones from the rest of the herd. After all, there is a word for a cheap, undersized and underpowered laptop, why not a break between an iPhone and a 3 year old NEC flip phone (DoCoMo currently calls both of the smartphones).

I wish we could go back in time and retro take back the perfect name. “PDA”.

When I look at the iPhone, that’s what it is. A Personal. Digital, Assistant. A small, portable microcomputer with internet connectivity and expandable functionality. It’s there to help me navigate my life by helping me get around, remind me of important information, store and protect critical personal information, get answers to questions I have and help me interact and control things far away from me. To me, we have finally realized the promises of technology and products introduced to us a decade ago.

I doubt this will all resolve itself cleanly and quickly. Personally I think “App” phone sounds rather silly and brings to mind a phone that can make farting noises, but maybe it will catch on. What I think is more important is that we start making this distinction for the consumer market. The sooner the better.

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