They’re Not Phones Anymore

By  |  Friday, September 11, 2009 at 8:16 am

Old PhoneMusing about Motorola’s announcement of MotoBlur and the Cliq yesterday, ZDNet’s Sam Diaz says that the telephone is no longer the dominant feature in today’s smartphones:

Call these devices smartphones if you’d like – but increasingly, the phone part of the device is just another feature, another widget on the home page.

He’s right, of course. The transformation of phones into pocket computers began with the arrival of devices such as the earliest Treos, and is now complete. These things are pocket computers that can make phone calls. Calling them “phones” is a little like calling a PC a “word processor.”

Sam goes on to wonder whether we need to come up with a new name. He brings up “handheld,” but says it doesn’t feel quite right. Me, I’ve been advocating for awhile now that smartphones are PCs, and that they day isn’t long off when everybody will think of them as such, But I’m not arguing that we should start calling them PCs (which could stand for either personal computer or personal communicator). At least not yet. For now, I’m comfortable calling my phone a…phone.

Here’s a quick T-Poll–and if you have any nominations for new names for phones, leave ’em in the comments.



13 Comments For This Post

  1. Snaggy Says:

    “iPhone” is the “kleenex” of 2012.

  2. Dave Moyer Says:

    It’s too late! They’re phones even if they do other stuff! Computers could definitely have better names, they’ve extended far beyond simple computations. We no longer dial a phone, etc! The word “phone” won’t be replaced, even though it probably will take on a very different meaning as tech advances.

  3. Peter Says:

    Just call everything with data a BlackBerry.

  4. Andrew Edsor Says:

    The Germans call a mobile phone/portable/cellphone a “handy”. Do we need to look any further?

  5. kingoftowns Says:

    i could go for a “Handy” right now. as far as phones go, why change it? its so easy and ubiquitous. if anyone ever tries to, will the masses ever adopt anything else?

    remember when Sprint tried to demand that they were not selling cell phones but PCS phones? that didnt last.

    in America i think it will always be a phone.

  6. Matt Sharpe Says:

    The fact that “phone” insufficiently describes todays devices is as irrelevant as the distinction between “PC” and Mac. Both are Personal Computers, but nobody is upset about that.

  7. Paul Judd Says:

    I really don;t think RIM wants to have to defend it’s name like Xerox and Kleenex (both registered brand names) in the legal arena. They don;t defend their trademark and they can loose it. The name “blackberry” is too valuable.

    I am of the opinion that the word “Smart Phone” works if it has vice service that is tied to a telecom company. If it uses AT&T and the like for voice, its a phone by definition since that is a separate distinct service from data. While other functions are more predominant, using cellular phone service in the same way (and the same protocols) as dumb phones makes them phones first.

  8. Marc Says:

    Here in the UK, the biggest “cellphone” retailer is called “The Carphone Warehouse – is they can still call them car phones, then we can still call them phones!

  9. Marc Says:

    Here in the UK, the biggest “cellphone” retailer is called “The Carphone Warehouse” – is they can still call them car phones, then we can still call them phones!

  10. Tim Conneally Says:

    As much as I adore words, it’s kind of a silly idea. After all, “computer” comes from Latin “computare” which means “to add/count,” and the term was originally used to refer to adding machines. Yeah, all computers do work mathematically, but I’d say a mechanical adding machine and a modern notebook computer are about as similar as a rocket booster and a campfire.


  11. i1patrick Says:

    Some form of the term “Phone” is and will continue to be the dominant word used to describe these devices for one reason: it’s the main reason we carry the device. My iPhone certainly has many, many other available functions, but first and foremost, the reason I carry it around with me is the phone functionality. Ask yourself this, if your “smart phone” did everything it does EXCEPT calling, would you still carry it around?

  12. Lance Sanders Says:

    I couldn’t agree with you more: the iPhone and G1, for example are, quite simply, microcomputers. Thus: “micros”.

  13. sfmitch Says:

    I vote for keeping smartphone. As long as I keep paying a monthly fee for having a phone number and making phone calls then they are (smart)phones.

    The ability to make voice calls is the defining feature of this type of device. You can still pay a phone company to use a device but you don’t call it a phone if it doesn’t make voice calls (on their network) e.g. iPad, computers with built in 3G modems.

    As soon as you remove the voice component, it changes name (iPod Touch vs iPhone).

    I don’t see people having trouble with the term.