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What are Smartphones?

Finding an accurate description of a smartphone is becoming increasingly difficult these days. By definition, a smartphone conveniently combines the functions of a GSM mobile phone and handheld computer into a single device.

Sometimes known as PDA phones or personal information managers (PIMs), smartphones have an operating system and local data storage. They also have Internet access, e-mail capabilities, scheduling and contact management software, as well as a built-in camera. One important feature of smartphones is that they allow the user to install third-party software.

However, many high-end mobile phones are being called smartphones. And some that possess basic PDA functionality and allow for the installation of additional applications are not considered smartphones.


Functionality, Programmability

To many industry types, the essence of the smartphone is that it's programmable. The operating system found in every smartphone allows the user to modify and add to its functionality. Unlike most cell phones, smartphones are susceptible to malware.

For users, it comes down to a question of functionality – a set of standard features such as full-fledged email support or, for example, the ability to read business documents in a variety of formats such as PDF.

But even this may not be enough, as cell phones are increasingly getting 'smarter'. It will only be a matter of time before all phones have the OS and advanced levels of functionality found in today's smart phones.


So finally, what is a Smartphone?

In her column "Analysis: What is a smart phone?", Jo Best offers perhaps the most useful definition of the smart phone: 'I know a smart phone when I see it'.

Mike Elgan of ComputerWorld believes the problem with finding a suitable definition may be the term itself. He thinks 'smartphone' is misleading, inexact, confusing and obsolete, and the best solution is dropping the label altogether.

He may be onto something. The past Sony Ericsson model, the Sony Ericsson M600, is avoiding the smartphone tag completely. Instead, the company is marketing the phone as a 'messaging device'.