Apple's iPhone was the talk of the town after its January 9 launch. Industry observers were by and large impressed with the new device, praising its user interface, innovation and seamless integration. But two senior ABI Research analysts — wireless research director Stuart Carlaw, and principal mobile broadband analyst Philip Solis — point out that while the iPhone is undoubtedly clever and capable, it is not correct to call it a smartphone, as much of the media has done.
ABI Research defines a smartphone as a cellular handset using an open, commercial operating system that supports third party applications. The iPhone runs the Apple Macintosh computer operating system, OS X, so at first glance it would seem to fall into the smartphone category, which might help justify its announced $500+ price tag. But, says Solis, "It turns out that this device will be closed to third party applications. Therefore we must conclude at this point that, based on our current definition, the iPhone is not a smartphone: it is a very high-end feature phone."
Feature phones' functionality (dictated by the software which controls the hardware) is closed and controlled by an operator or the device manufacturer, whereas smartphones are supported by a third-party ecosystem, where competition in the software space creates applications that add value. "Sure," concedes Solis, "feature phones have third party applications too — but these are relatively weak and limited applications that work with the middleware such as Java and BREW. Applications designed for smartphones can be written to access core functionality from the OS itself, and are therefore usually more powerful and efficient. The competition in an open environment also yields more cutting edge, rich applications."
Stuart Carlaw adds, "Consumers will not be willing to settle for a second-rate cell phone just to have superior music. Apple must get the phone engineering part of the equation right, and it is difficult to see how they will accomplish that with no track record in the industry. Even though they are working with some prominent suppliers, the task of putting all of the building blocks together cannot be underestimated."
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