Smartphone or personal computing device?

Last week at the Open Mobile Summit in San Francisco, Walt Mossberg, personal technology columnist at the Wall Street Journal and a moderator at the event, said he didn't think that the current generation of smartphones (the Droid, the iPhone 3GS, the Palm Pre and others) should be called smartphones and grouped with devices that he considers the real smartphones like the Palm Treo. Instead, he suggested they be categorized separately as something akin to a personal computing device because they have the operating system and processing power similar to a small computer.

Several other speakers at the two-day conference drew upon that theme--implying that this current generation of smartphones are so much more advanced than earlier smartphones that they should be in a different category and judged separately from devices with lower processing power.

I understand the differences between today's advanced smartphones and the less sophisticated smartphones of yesterday, but I'm not convinced we need another term and another device category. Just yesterday Qualcomm announced that AT&T Mobility would launch the first smartbook, a new device that Qualcomm has been pushing that combines the always-on connectivity of smartphones with the larger display of a netbook. 

The lines between a feature phone, a smartphone, a smartbook and a netbook are already a little blurry--do we really need another category to describe the advanced smartphones that are currently being released? 

The wireless industry certainly loves to categorize its products and services. About five years ago device makers were focused on making devices for different niche markets--there were the enterprise devices that featured keyboards for email, the teen/young adult phones with easier text messaging capabilities, the phones for music lovers with high-quality sound and sideloading capability and the standard voice phones for the rest of the population.

It seems to me that the industry is now taking this device categorization to the next level with the feature phone, smartphone, smartbook products. But does the consumer really care? For the average buyer these different terms are confusing. Let's focus instead on making devices that are sleek and easy to use. Let's make them powerful but still affordable and most of all, let's make devices that consumers will want and use. --Sue

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