The Emergence of the Smartphone

Since their explosion in popularity, cell phones have become increasingly more feature-rich and sophisticated, with enough features to supplement, or even replace, other devices such as media players, digital cameras, and PDAs. On the leading edge of this technological advancement in the smartphone, a device that blurs the line between a cell phone and a PDA.

Smartphone: Changing Definitions

By definition, a smartphone is a mobile phone that incorporates a PDA (Personal Digital Assistant). A PDA is a miniature, hand-held device that replicates key features of a personal computer, most notably document viewing, task and contact management, and Internet access. A smartphone, while possibly sharing many of these features, is still primarily a “voice-centric” device, while a PDA is, by nature, “data-centric.” Rather than one device replacing the other, PDAs and smartphones have often developed in tandem, with PDAs taking on more voice-centric aspects, and smartphones including features previously limited to PDAs.

Most contemporary smartphones include Internet and e-mail access, scheduling or PIM software, contact management, and the ability to read (and sometimes compose) document formats such as Word, Excel and PDF. Many smartphones also feature built-in cameras, music players, and GPS navigation software, making them an excellent all-in-one replacement for a variety of other devices. As cell phone technology continues to develop, many features previously isolated to smartphones become common in mid-range cell phones. As such, the definition of what precisely constitutes a “smartphone” is constantly evolving.

Pricing and services for various smartphones will, of course, vary by carrier. If you have a Verizon smartphone, for example, the Blackberry Voice & Data Core Choice Bundle from Verizon Wireless offers 450 minutes of voice time, with unlimited nights and weekends and virtually unlimited Internet data usage (Web browsing, email, and instant messaging) for $79.99 a month. On the other hand, Cingular’s Good Mobile Messaging Smartphone Connect service, which is offered separately from its basic voice services, offers unlimited data usage within its coverage area for $34.99 a month. Add this to Cingular’s 450-minute basic voice package ($39.99 a month) and it comes out to a very competitive $75 a month from Cingular.

The Most Popular Smartphones

While not quite as diverse as standard cell phones, smartphones are available in a wide array of styles and capabilities. In terms of culture and mind-share, the Blackberry is probably the most popular and easily recognizable smartphone currently on the market. The Blackberry 8800, for example, features nearly everything customers have come to expect in a smartphone: a full QWERTY keyboard, Internet and email access, document viewing, an integrated music and media player, and built-in GPS capability. (For users who need a digital camera, the Blackberry Pearl or the new Blackberry Curve are excellent choices.)

On the other hand, if you’re looking for something a bit less utilitarian than the Blackberry, the Palm Treo is slim and sporty (available in a distinctive crimson red), featuring a digital camera with video capture, an MP3 player, and Bluetooth.

Like many smartphones, the Treo eliminates the need to carry around a multitude of other devices. For the user who’s really passionate about multimedia, Cingular’s ultra-slim Blackjack is one of the most video-intensive smartphones available, featuring a rich media player and Cingular Video. The Blackjack’s Cingular Music Service supports several online music stores, as well as XM satellite radio, making it an ideal choice for the user who wants a smartphone and a powerful media player in one convenient package.

As with all emergent technology, new products are constantly pushing the boundaries. Apple’s iPhone promises to raise the bar even further, not only featuring a camera, multimedia player, text messaging, Web browsing, and wireless connectivity, but a touchscreen interface and virtual keyboard that promises to bring a new level of functionality to users, with Apple’s distinctive sense of style and design.

A Smart Choice for You?

While many cell phone users will be more than happy with the features of an average cell phone, smartphones have a lot to offer people who want or need Internet access, email, and multimedia while away from the home or office. While the price tag on a smartphone is often significantly higher than a mid-range cell phone, a smartphone can be a highly economical choice when compared to the cost of all the devices it can effectively replace. For the frequent business traveler or someone who’s just on the move a lot, a smartphone can be a marvelous all-in-one solution.