Cingular: 'Treo is not a smartphone'

Summary:In yesterday's post about Cingular's launch of its Windows Mobile 5.0-based 2125 smartphone, I disputed Cingular's claim that it was the first Windows Mobile 5.

smarttreo.jpg
In yesterday's post about Cingular's launch of its Windows Mobile 5.0-based 2125 smartphone, I disputed Cingular's claim that it was the first Windows Mobile 5.0 smartphone on the market and credited the Verizon Wireless-provisioned Treo 700 with that honor (it shipped earlier this month). Then, looking at the comments to that post, it appears there were others last year (some of which may not be available here in the US).  Cingular however maintains that the 2125 is indeed the first Windows Mobile 5.0-based smartphone in North America because the Treo, despite the fact it's also running Windows Mobile 5.0, is not a smartphone.  In an e-mail, Cingular Wireless Media & Industry Analyst Relations director John Kampfe wrote (reprinted with his permission note: some accidentally deleted text has been re-added):

Read your blog item re the Cingular 2125 announcement. Won't quibble with your personal opinions re your experiences with EV-DO although while EV-DO may work everywhere you go, it still is a regional network and not yet nationwide. Cingular's EDGE network, while slower, is nationwide (250 million+ pops covered in 13,000 cities and towns). My issue is with your comment about the Treo being the first 5.0 smartphone. The Treo is not considered a smartphone. It is in the category of a PDA. A smartphone is a mobile handset that is powered by the Windows Mobile operating system. So by that definition, the Cingular 2125 is the first handset in North America to support Windows Mobile 5.0. You may choose to disagree as is your right and prerogative but wanted to set the record straight from this perspective. Thanks for your time and take care.

To better understand when a Windows Mobile 5.0-based phone is not a smartphone, I called Kampfe for clarification and here's what he said:

We sell Treo 650 and we don't define it as a smartphone. It's a handset.  A smartphone is voice-centric handset with the Windows Mobile operating system on it.  It appeals to people whose preference for a primary wireless device is a traditional handset but that has the ability to access email, etc but that doesn't have a QWERTY keyboard.  We would classify that as more of a PDA or a data-centric device.  Our BlackBerry 8700 is not considered to be a smartphone.  It has to be the Windows Mobile operating system.  That's basically the traditional definition of a smartphone.  There are may vendors that will remain nameless that we've worked with that want us to slap the smartphone label on their product and we've said we won't give it that designation.

Palm must be one of those nameless vendors.  Judging by Palm's website which clearly identifies the Treo as a smartphone (see partial screenshot, above left), the Treo-maker doesn't see it the same way.  HP is probably another one of those nameless vendors.  Although I called its Cingular-provisioned hw6500 a smartphone (I also called it a dud), HP calls it a "Mobile Messenger".  I checked around to see what some others-in-the-know had to say.  For example, when it comes to the BlackBerry phones -- the folks a Research in Motion fall more in line with Cingular definition -- and refer to their offerings as either "devices" or "handhelds" (according to a company spokesperson). 

Earlier today by phone, Microsoft's Windows Mobile and Embedded group product manager John Starkweather was careful not to take sides but also understands why Cingular feels its right:

If you talk to Palm, the Treo is a smartphone.  Cingular's argument also make sense because of the version of Windows Mobile 5.0 it's running.  Whereas Palm's Treo is running Windows Mobile 5.0 for PocketPC, the Cingular 2125 is the first device to run Windows Mobile 5.0 for Smartphones.  So, technically speaking [on the basis of which editions of Windows Mobile 5.0 each of the two devices run on], Cingular was accurate.  Underneath the hood [of the two editions of Windows Mobile 5.0], everything is exactly the same.  The differences have to do with support of touch screen and non touch screen-based devices.  But a lot of this changing and we're downplaying the differences because, in the next major version [of Windows Mobile], the platform will be completely together and their won't be any differention at all.

To me, the debate is silly.  If we worked hard enough at it, based on feature-set, we might be able to draw the line at the point at which a phone becomes a smartphone (so, if it's not a smartphone, is it a "dumbphone"?).  Personally, no matter what a platform vendor calls the various editions of its operating systems, what makes the phone smart are the tasks it can do for its owner and not the industrial design.  So, using the touch screen or the keyboard as qualifiers for the smartphone designation doesn't make sense to me.  Although I was unable to reach him in time for this post (I tried), I'm sure Palm CEO and president Ed Colligan would agree.

Topics: Smartphones

About

David Berlind was fomerly the executive editor of ZDNet. David holds a BBA in Computer Information Systems. Prior to becoming a tech journalist in 1991, David was an IT manager.

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