Smartphones don’t need a new name

November 5, 2009

droid In his review of the Motorola Droid, New York Times writer David Pogue tried to coin the phrase “App Phone” for the newest, high-end mobile devices, presumably because, well, you can install applications on them. While the newer platforms are getting a lot more attention from app developers, that’s not what makes them different.

Pogue’s argument for the name app phone comes with the assertion that the name smartphone no longer does justice to the capabilities of the latest mobile phones. He lists phones like the Blackberry, Blackjack and Treo as examples of smartphones to be spurned in favor of the new category of phones.

The only problem is that each and every one of those phones allows you to install applications. They might not have as extensive a catalog as Apple or Android, but they’ve had mobile development communities for years.

In addition, the Blackberry and Blackjack even allow you to surf the mobile Web. Herein lies the major difference between the last generation of smartphones and the latest devices.

If any one thing has changed most dramatically in the last few years in the smartphone market, it’s the Web browsing experience. Now that the networks have gotten faster and the browser interface is better, more people are paying for smartphones and the accompanying data charges.

It’s the connection to the Internet that is making smartphone applications much more useful as well. Web-connected applications such as Facebook are much more interesting than the day planner or contact management applications that used to come on an old Palm Pilot.

In fact, it’s the access to information and communications that most smartphone users value over the majority of apps. For example, only 20 percent of iPhone users ever return to a free app after downloading it.

With the host of other important functions that smartphones like the iPhone provide like email and IM, if there’s any part of the moniker that might need rethinking, it’s the phone part.

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4 Responses to “Smartphones don’t need a new name”

  1. DavidB:

    I could install BREW apps on my POS Samsung dumb phone 5 years ago. So that puts it in the same category as a BlackBerry or iPhone or Pre or DROID or …??? Pogue is an idiot, IMNSHO.

  2. david pogue:

    No. You’re misquoting me, and also missing the point.

    I wrote: “What should we call these iPhone-like, touch screen Wi-Fi phones with music and video, real Web browsers, e-mail, sensors (light, tilt, location, proximity), and, above all, app stores?”

    DavidB, who calls me an idiot, also missed this point. His “POS Samsung dumb phone” did not have touchscreen, video, sensors, app store.

    Neither do your BlackBerry and Black Jack.

    It’s obvious that there’s a new class of iPhone-ish TOUCHSCREEN, RECTANGULAR-SCREEN, APP-STORE, SENSOR-LADED phones that belong together. That’s what we’re seeking a name for.


  3. Dave Jeyes:

    Windows Mobile phones had touch screens at the exact same time as the Blackjack/ Blackberry. Further, there are now touch screens Blackberry phones that don’t jive with your argument.

    I don’t see what touch screens have to do with calling it an App Phone in the least. All of these changes are evolutionary, not revolutionary, when looking at the smartphone market over time.

    The only thing that has changes is the explosion in adoption and the slew of so-called “Mobile Experts” that it’s created.

  4. Pabitra Saha:

    David, I agree that new gen handsets would need a new name to distinguish them from Smartphones. The App Phone name, coined by you appears to be good. However, Droid may not meet the requirement in clear terms. What would be required is touch interface based visual application generator which would enable normal phone users, to develop small web oriented applications. Then only this name would be justified.
    Please publish my email address as I would be happy to discus the concept with any one.
    David, you may also mail your comments on this to me.

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