Definition

smartphone

Contributor(s): Alyssa Provazza
This definition is part of our Essential Guide: Guide to enterprise mobile app development and SOA

A smartphone is a cellular telephone with an integrated computer and other features not originally associated with telephones, such as an operating system, web browsing and the ability to run software applications.

The first smartphone was IBM's Simon, which was presented as a concept device -- rather than a consumer device -- at the 1992 COMDEX computer trade show. It was capable of sending emails and faxes, as well as keeping a calendar of events for the user, as opposed to simply making calls and sending messages.

Consumer smartphones evolved away from personal digital assistants (PDAs) around the turn of the 21st century when devices such as the PalmPilot began to include wireless connectivity. Several manufacturers, including Nokia and Hewlett Packard, released devices in 1996 that were combinations of PDAs and typical cellphones that included early operating systems (OSes) and web browsing capabilities. BlackBerry released its first smartphones in the mid-2000s, and they became very popular with consumers and in the enterprise.

Many of these early smartphones featured physical keyboards.


Get to know the features that make up a smartphone.

In 2007, LG released the Prada and Apple released the iPhone, the first smartphones to feature a touchscreen. HTC released its Dream smartphone a year later, which was the first to include Google's Android OS.

Other major advancements in the history of smartphones include Sony's release of the Xperia Z5 Premium phone with a 4K resolution screen in 2015. Networking advancements in Wi-Fi and LTE have also progressed over the years, improving the connectivity of smartphones for faster use.

Cellphone vs. smartphone

A cellphone is simply a telephone that doesn't need a landline connection. It enables the user to make and receive phone calls. Some cellphones also offer text messaging.

A smartphone has more advanced features, including web browsing, software applications and a mobile OS. In turn, a smartphone also offers capabilities such as support for biometrics, video chatting, digital assistants and much more.

Still, there is no standard definition that clearly delineates a smartphone; many devices marketed simply as cellphones offer similar features to those marketed as smartphones.

Important features

One of the most important features of a smartphone is its connection to an app store. An app store is a centralized portal where users can search for and download software applications to run on their phones. A typical app store offers thousands of mobile apps for productivity, gaming, word processing, note-taking, organization, social media and more.

The following are some of the other key features of a smartphone:

  • internet connectivity;
  • a mobile browser;
  • the ability to sync more than one email account to a device;
  • embedded memory;
  • a hardware or software-based QWERTY keyboard;
  • wireless synchronization with other devices, such as laptop or desktop computers;
  • the ability to download applications and run them independently;
  • support for third-party applications;
  • the ability to run multiple applications simultaneously;
  • touchscreen;
  • Wi-Fi;
  • a digital camera, typically with video capability;
  • gaming;
  • unified messaging; and
  • GPS -- global positioning system.

A smartphone also has the ability to support accessories, including Bluetooth headphones, power charging cables and extra speakers. Because of the fragile outer casing of most smartphones, users often also purchase screen protectors and more durable cases in which to put their phones.

Because they run an OS and applications, smartphones get consistent software updates. Vendors update their mobile OSes a few times a year, and individual mobile apps in an app store see constant software updates that users can either choose to install or ignore.

Popular vendors and manufacturers

Mobile OSes include Apple iOS, Google Android, Microsoft Windows Phone and BlackBerry 10. BlackBerry said it will discontinue its OS in 2019, however, and Microsoft has long been a distant player in the mobile OS race.

Examples of typical smartphones
Examples of typical smartphones

The top smartphone hardware manufacturers are Apple, Samsung, Huawei, LG, Lenovo -- including Motorola -- Oppo and several others. Apple is the only vendor that builds the iPhone for its iOS operating system. Multiple manufacturers can produce Android devices.

As of April 2018, Android leads the OS market share worldwide with about 40% of the market, according to StatCounter.

Popular uses

Many consumers use their smartphones to engage with friends, family and brands on social media.

Social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn all have mobile apps that a user can download from their phone's app store. These apps make it easier for smartphone users to post personal updates and photos while on the go rather than at their desktop.

Another common use for smartphones is health and wellness tracking. The Health app for iOS, for instance, can keep track of sleep behavior, nutrition, body measurements, vital signs, mental health exercises and more.

Third-party wearable devices, such as smartwatches, can connect with a smartphone to monitor an individual's health statistics, such as heart rate, and send information to be aggregated on the phone.

Mobile payment is another popular use for smartphones. Wallet features allow users to save credit card information on their phones to use when purchasing items at retail stores. Apps such as Apple Pay also enable users to pay other iOS users directly from their phones.

Smartphone use in the enterprise

BlackBerry devices were the first popular smartphone many organizations offered to their employees for business use due to BlackBerry's history with strong security. As smartphones added more advanced productivity features, security techniques and integrations with IT management tools, others gained popularity in the enterprise.

IT professionals in many organizations today must support employees that want to use their smartphones for work. Businesses can adopt enterprise mobility management (EMM) tools to control this use and develop BYOD policies to govern what users can do with their devices. Apple and Google have both worked to improve the enterprise capabilities of their mobile OSes, enabling IT to better support iPhone and Android devices in businesses.

Because the smartphone form factor is typically smaller than a desktop computer, business users typically use it for quick tasks, such as sending an email. Tablets and 2-in-1 devices have also joined the mobile device market as alternatives to both smartphones and PCs for enterprise use.

This was last updated in June 2018

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