Thursday, July 21, 2005


Think of a daily task, any daily task, and it's likely there's a specialized, pocket-sized device designed to help you accomplish it. You can get a separate, tiny and powerful machine to make phone calls, keep your calendar and address book, entertain you, play your music, give directions, take pictures, check your e-mail and do countless other things. But how many pockets do you have? Handheld devices become as clunky as a room-sized supercomputer when you have to carry four of them around with you every day A smartphone is one device that can take care of all of your handheld computing and communication needs in a single, small package. It's not so much a distinct class of products as it is a different set of standards for cell phones to live up to. This HowStuffWorks article explores what makes a cell phone a smartphone, how the idea came about and what you can do with it.

What's a Smartphone?

Unlike many traditional cell phones, smartphones allow individual users to install, configure and run applications of their choosing. A smartphone offers the ability to conform the device to your particular way of doing things. Most standard cell-phone software offers only limited choices for re-configuration, forcing you to adapt to the way it's set up. On a standard phone, whether or not you like the built-in calendar application, you are stuck with it except for a few minor tweaks. If that phone were a smartphone, you could install any compatible calendar application you like.

Since cell phones and PDAs are the most common handheld devices today, a smartphone is usually either a phone with added PDA capabilities or a PDA with added phone capabilities. Here's a list of some of the things smartphones can do:

1)Send and receive mobile phone calls

2)Personal Information Management (PIM) including notes, calendar and to-do list

3)Communication with laptop or desktop computers

4)Data synchronization with applications like Microsoft Outlook and Apple's ICal


6)Instant messaging

7)Applications and configurations that the user can do him/herself

8)Play audio and video files in some standard formats

The Future of Smartphones

Possibly the most exciting thing about smartphone technology is that the field is still wide open. It's an idea that probably hasn't found its perfect real-world implementation yet. Every crop of phones brings new designs and new interface ideas. No one developer or manufacturer has come up with the perfect shape, size or input method yet. The next "killer app" smartphone could look like a flip phone, a tablet PC, a candy bar or something no one has conceived of yet.

Even the protocols are still evolving. One interesting new set of services to watch is called 3G (third-generation). These formats, like W-CDMA, CDMA2000 and TD-SCDMA, have the ability to carry both voice and data over the same service. GPRS is considered a "2.5G" technology because it allows the user to send voice and data at the same time but much slower than with 3G. Although these networks are still in their early stages, many analysts believe that in a few years time, all of the major cell-phone providers will have switched over to one 3G format or another.


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