John Gruber picked up my Nokia post, and makes an interesting comment.
After quoting my “Why on earth wouldn’t Nokia be able to maintain two operating systems?” he says:
I shouldn’t have written “mobile devices”; I should have written “smartphones.”
To me, that doesn’t make any difference. I count both MeeGo and Symbian as smartphone operating systems, so if John had written “smartphones” I would have made exactly the same comment.
That doesn’t mean John’s wrong, though. He just defines smartphones differently than I do. As I see it, he defines a “smartphone” as what I call a “high-end smartphone” (iOS, Android, MeeGo, webOS, likely Windows Phone 7 and BlackBerry OS6, too).
This only goes to prove that the term “smartphone” is in desperate need of a new definition.
Originally, “smartphone” meant something like “phone that runs a recognisable OS and that you can install apps on.” Nowadays, though, that definition is becoming strained. It’s becoming possible to install apps on all kinds of phones, and OSs are slowly becoming more recognisable, too.
Speaking strictly, that would mean that in the not-too-distant future most phones would be smartphones.
Example: Samsung wants to end up in the smartphone top-three, and that’s the reason behind bada. bada is a recognisable OS and you can install apps on it. If every bada unit sold counts as a smartphone, Samsung going to make this target easily.
But it doesn’t make sense to compare bada to iOS — neither in functionality nor in target market. Consumers will not hesitate between the Samsung Wave and the iPhone. If they’re iPhone-minded they might pick up an Android instead; if they want something cheaper they’ll compare bada to Symbian or BlackBerry. But they won’t cross over to another market segment entirely.
From this perspective a change of definition would be desirable.
If we’d do that, though, market stats would stop to make sense. Symbian is the best-sold smartphone platform in the world and iOS is losing market share — according to the old definition. If we’d remove all Symbian phones (and bada, and older BlackBerrys, and Windows Mobile) from the smartphone category, though, the stats might change dramatically and cannot be compared to last year’s stats.
So on balance it’s unlikely that the definition will change any time soon: too many market parties have a vested interest in keeping the definition the same. In fact, only Apple (and maybe Google) have a vested interest in changing the definition.
I’m not sure how this is going to play out. I just wanted to warn against the term “smartphone.” If you encounter it, make sure you first understand whether the writer uses the old definition or means high-end smartphones.
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