Delineating Devices: Current Generation, MMS Mobiles and Smartphones


I was struggling to explain to my wife recently what I was working on and the devices I was targeting. In that discussion, I ended up coming up with a sort of categorization that I'll talk about here. It's really helped me understand what I'm working on and for who.

The idea was that I was trying to explain the difference between the super-powerful Nokia 3650 and Jim's new Siemens S55. They have so many things in common that it's hard to differentiate to the non-Mobile-obsessed. I was explaining to Ana that Nokia is doing something very weird in my mind by pushing the 3650, which is a phone with incredible potential and capabilities, as a competitor to phones that have much less power.

Briefly here's how I how deliniated the different phones that are out there. I just divided them into levels, though maybe this is a bad idea because of the confusion with "generations", i.e. 2.5G vs. 3G, etc.

Anyways here's my thoughts:

Level 1: "Current Generation". These are the mobile phones that most everyone has now. They all have grey LCD screens and only support vanilla GSM or CDMA. Some of the later models may have polyphonic ringtones and WAP, but for the most part these phones are used for calls and SMS messages. The advantage of these phones is their simplicity and recently their size. My last phone was an Alcatel m5510 which was sold for less than $100 and weighed only 75g - everything in comparision to that phone seems like a brick. But most of these phones are a bit older and are still pretty hefty. Example phone: Nokia 3310/3330.

Level 1.5: "Current Plus". These are phones that may have some of the features of the next generation phones, but not enough to push them up the ladder. A good example is the Siemens C55 which has GPRS, but a monochrome screen and no MMS.

Level 2: "MMS Mobiles". These are the next generation mobiles that are going to be pushed by just about everyone. Vodafone is basing their Vodafone Live! around these phones, which have a minimum functionality of the following:

  • Color Screen
  • Camera: Integrated or Attachment
  • MMS - Multimedia Messaging
  • J2ME - Java games (maybe BREW or Mophun)
  • WAP 1.2.1 (needed for MMS)
  • Tri-band/GPRS/Higher speed CDMA
  • Polyphonic Sound

These phones are generally higher speed than the Current Generation, but not as high speed as Symbian phones.

Level 2.5: "MMS Plus". I think these are the phones that add a bit more to the package:

  • Bluetooth
  • MP3/FM Radio/Stereo Playback
  • Email Client
  • PC Sync / SyncML / iSync
  • 3G Connection over UMTS/CDMA2000 (i.e. phones from Hutchenson's 3 service).

Level 3: "Smartphones". These mobile phones are more akin to small computers or powerful PDAs than anything that preceeds them. Though they MAY have many or all of the capabilities of MMS Phones, these devices normally have an ARM-compatible processor running in the 100s of MHz, a real OS (Symbian, Palm, Linux, MS), a real file system and usually much more memory and/or expansion slots. You can install custom software on these phones like on your PDA, and do everything from play multi-player Bluetooth 3D video games to using a real web browser or viewing streaming video. Example phones: Nokia 3650, SonyEricsson P800.

Level 3.5: "Smartphone Plus". These don't exist yet - or at least aren't commonly available - but are Smartphones plus the higher bandwidth of 3G or WiFi or with GPS or with megapixel cameras, etc. Samsung's coming Symbian-based 3G phone will fit this category.

Level 4: "Future Phones". These are phones you usually see mocked up in 3G promotional brochures. You can safely ignore this category for at least 5 years a couple more years. Nokia just announced their 7700 which fits into this category.

So the problem with these classifications is that they're far from absolute. The specs for each phone range all over the place (the SonyEricsson T68i for example has everything it needs to be a MMS Plus phone, yet doesn't have Java or Brew). However this is meant just to be a guide and I think it's pretty obvious where the sweet spot is - the same place that Vodafone is aiming right now, at the MMS Mobile phone market. MMS, Java, Ringtones, WAP. It'll be interesting to see what great apps arrive for the smartphones and to see how far they go - and to see if Nokia is able to Trojan Horse enough 3650s into the world so that the smartphone market gets a major boost...

In general I've decided to target level 3.5 phones with my latest efforts, under the idea that you don't develop for what's available now, but for what's going to be available soon. Otherwise you end up finding work arounds and solutions for hardware that will soon be sitting in someone's drawer somewhere.


Later: 11/29/03 - I've changed the name of the second level to MMS Mobiles to better reflect the idea that I'm talking about the capabilities of MMS and not the future full-on multimedia focused phones like the recently announced Nokia 7700.

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