Can you help me define what a smartphone is?

Here’s a fun exercise. Do a search for analyst, smartphone, forecast. What you get back will likely be a wide mix of numbers with a huge variance. Now, analyst firms often will vary on numbers but usually not but such a wide margin. The reason I suspect is that not everyone seems to be counting the same things. Some firms insist current Palm OS devices are still really PDAs not smartphones. Others exclude RIM and Blackberry. In short, a term that used to be meaningful has really become useless as a measure. The reason is simple. Before you can count and forecast, you need to classify.

There’s simply no good definition of a Smartphone. Any definition is either going to exclude devices that clearly are part of the category or include devices that should be left off. In my last forecast at Jupiter Research I did not use the term at all and instead used a set of overlapping categories with hierarchal super-set of features. Smartphone, however is an industry term, so once again, I’m taking a crack at a definition. So dear reader, i’ll ask you, what’s your definition of a smartphone circa 2009-2010? Careful, it’s not a easy as you might think

(side note, as I’ve said before, the whole phone thing is a euphemism anyhow. let’s face it, an iPhone, G1 or Blackberry is really just a pocket sized computer that happens to have the ability to do telephony. hardly what I’d have called a phone in days gone by)

10 responses to “Can you help me define what a smartphone is?

  1. I agree the term is fuzzy. To me, a Smartphone has a screen < 4.5″, GSM or CDMA, supports a data plan and web browser. The only distinction between a PDA and a Smartphone is that a Smartphone has the Phone radio.

    My UMPC (WiBrain B1H) has 4.8″ screen, no GSM or CDMA.
    Many would call it a MID, but it runs XP.

  2. How about: A cellular phone that is capable of running multiple apps simultaneously.

    The problem with this definition is the iPhone, but as proven by Cydia, the iPhone actually is capable of it.

  3. in line with your “OSes don’t matter, apps do” proposition… I’d differentiate smartphone primarily by its app platform…

    1) fits in a shirt or pants pocket (perhaps bounded by display size with 4.0-4.5″ (Toshiba TG01) being the max)
    2) GSM or CDMA voice and data connectivity
    3) open API that provides direct access to native device capabilities
    4) AJAX capable Web browser
    5) capable of background processing (which iPhone is eg. built-in push mail)

    so in terms of what’s shipping today, basically anything running WM, S60, Palm, Android, BB, iPhone is included. anything with only J2ME/BREW sandbox and/or WAP browser is excluded.

    • not bad, need to think this one a bit more. Does Opera Mini support Ajax and I think there are some devices such as Palm OS that don’t support AJAX at all but we’re getting closer.

    • no, i meant euphemisim. we call them phones, TVs, Game Consoles etc. all euphmeisms for things they once were not what they really are today. my iPhone bears no relation to the rotary Bell Telephone that my mon still uses. Both are called phones. Only one is really, the other is a touch based, UNIX PC that happens to make telephone calls.

  4. Just wanted to say thanks for the great post ! Found your blog on Google and I’m happy I did. I’ll be reading you on a regular basis ! Thanks again :)

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