Monday 11 May 2009

What actually are Smartphones?

Mobile industry is these days ruled by the word Smartphones. There is no doubt that 2008 was the year of the smartphone. The last 12 months has seen the launch of iconic devices such as the iPhone 3G, Google G1, Blackberry Storm and Nokia N97. Smartphones are by every means driving the mobile market.

I come across this term almost everyday and thought how actually we define a Smartphone or What is a Smartphone?

The word “Smartphone” is a newly minted term that is used to describe a Telephone-capable device that also provides information and data organization capabilities. They are similar in size, shape, and usage to normal cell phone but feature more extensive data organization software and web abilities. Smartphones are equipped with complete operating systems that determine what kinds of functions and applications are available for that device. They provide a convenient way to carry several hand-held digital devices in one body. They provide the data and contact organization of a PDA, connectivity of a cellular phone, along with advanced multimedia like access to email and can in most cases support web browsing.

What Can a Smartphone Do? Unlike traditional cell phones that restrict a user to the applications and features that are originally designed for and then fixed into the phone, Smartphones allow for significant user-customization. These full-fledged operating systems (of which there are several options to choose from) allow a user to customize, install, and configure applications to suit their individual needs. Along with the prerequisite phone capability, Smartphones typically perform all sorts of important and useful tasks.

Smartphones are very smart in personal Information Management (PIM): PIM is a whole category of software functions that organize personal information. A typical PIM suite includes a scheduler for events, and address book for contacts, and to-do list. PIM can also include email, text notes, voice notes, and alarms / reminders.

Syncing with Desktop and Laptop PCs: Many Smartphones are designed to communicate with full-fledged PCs. Aside from just being cool, this feature allows users to easily install, remove, change and configure the software that they choose to equip their Smartphone with. It also allows further synchronization with PIM software both on your phone and on your PC.

Instant Messaging (IM): Not every phone that provides IM capability is a smart phone. But almost every Smartphone has a keyboard that at least allows access to every letter of the alphabet for sending Text messages. Some Smartphones have a key for every letter; others designate several letters per key. Word recognition software and other smart features further improve the speed and accuracy of Text messaging on these kinds of phones.

Email Access: While there are plenty of non-Smartphones that provide internet and email access, this option is more complete (and configurable) on Smartphone devices. You can sync email with your PIM software both on your phone and on your PC, send, read, and organize email, all from your phone. In most cases, you won’t even need to be near a wireless hotspot, either.

Web Browsing: All Smartphones allow for some form of Internet access. Wireless Network Protocols, or the technique in which web information is sent and received over cellular networks, are grouped into different generations.
But the question which remains albeit is what Makes a Smartphone Smart?

Smartphones are capable of so many features normally reserved for the realms of PCs and powerful PDA devices because they are almost PCs and PDAs themselves. There are typically two schools of thought used when designing a Smartphone: Create a PDA with Telephone capabilities, or a Telephone with PDA capabilities. No matter what design elements went into Smartphones developmental stages, there are still two things that set these mobile wonders apart from their regular cellphone cousins.

As mentioned above a Smartphone differs from a regular phone in that it has a processor running inside it, much like a computer does. These processors are currently nowhere near the power of PCs, but with the advent and subsequent redesign of Ultra Portable PCs (sometimes called Micro PCs), we are sure to see great leaps in Smartphone speeds in the future. Current Smartphones commonly use ARM processors; a power-efficient design used in other devices like routers, printers, and advanced MP3 players. A Smartphone processor is aided by computer chips that help perform certain tasks. A Smartphone equipped with a Digital Camera has an Image Processing Sensor inside it, much like a regular digital camera. Features like Playing Digital Music, complex web browsing, and other such access smart functions are all made possible by these computer chips.

If Smartphones have Operating Systems (OS), then it stands to reason that they also have software applications, as well. Applications that are written for a specific Smartphone platform (Platform is a fancy reference to the OS) can run on a Smartphone with that particular platform, regardless of what manufacturer produces the phone.

Based on the above discussion there is no doubt the most important software on a Smartphone is the Operating System. This is because nothing will work without it. A Smartphone operating system manages the hardware and software on the device. Some OS cover the entire access Software Stack while others only provide the lower levels like the Kernel and Middleware. These OS versions rely on third party software platforms to provide User Interface Frameworks.There are several different Operating Systems available for Smartphones. Some are designed for manufacturer-specific Smartphones, others are open and can be used on any Smartphone that meets the minimum requirements. Following are some of the OS for the Smartphones.
  • Symbian OS: Symbian OS is used in over 100 different makes and models of Smartphone. This Operating System contains only the Kernel and Middleware parts of its software stack. This means that users of the Symbian OS will rely upon other software platforms for the AEE and User Interface Frameworks. This allows significant customization by both Wireless retailers and consumers.
  • Linux OS: There is something special about Linux. It is developed and written by the developer community rather than by a single company. This allows for maximum creativity and innovation for developers and those software-savvy consumers, but has one major drawback: it means that software, updates, and other applications written for Linux operating systems differ greatly from each other. This reduces compatibility, and thus originally caused developers to avoid Linux. That is now changing, but many Smartphone manufacturers prefer to stick with more universally accepted OS software.
  • Windows Mobile: This is one of the few Smartphone OS that envelops the entire Software Stack. Much of the strengths of Windows mobile lie in its completeness and full compatibility with other Windows based systems.
  • Java and Garnet OS


Anonymous said...

I think that you left behind some important OS:
- Iphone OS: I think i don't need to mention too much, it speaks for itself.
- Symbian:

*Symbian UIQ: It was fully supported by Sonyericsson at first and then Motorola.
*Symbian S60: The most popular Symbian OS
*Symbian S80: Nokia Communicator OS
*Symbian S90: The first Nokia Attempt to provide full touchscreen smartphones (7110)

- GEOS: Even this is no longer supported i think is worth mentioning it due to what it represented in the past. It was the first OS used for Nokia Communicator Series

Randall Stross said...

You should also add the Palm Pre's webOS to your list. It's an up and coming new OS from Palm.