The Smartphone FAQs for beginners

I've recently been asked to try and explain some of the ideas behind "Smartphones" to try and help a friend so here's my attempt to answer some of those obvious questions.

Firstly, what is a smartphone?
A smartphone is a device that combines the workings of a cellphone with the functionality of a personal digital assistant (PDA). Originally they were simple devices that allowed for phones to run a very basic operating system (OS) back at the turn of the millennium though have now become hugely powerful mini computers in your hands.

What are the current operating systems?
At the moment there is a rather large number of operating in use though to keep this simple we have 4 majors ones. iOS, Android, Blackberry and Windows 7 Mobile, these are each owned by different companies and used on different handsets with each company trying to out do the other in one way or another. We'll take a look each of these in turn.

iOS is owned by Apple and is currently on version 4 (iOS4). In the phone market it is used by iPhones and is a rather regimented system with Apple controlling it and updating it. iOS phones use Apple's "App store" to download apps and are seen as being of a high standard as Apple themselves make all the phones and have to pass the Apps.

Whilst the system is rigid it in terms of what the end user can do it's seen as the most solid overall system and with Apple controlling it it's not got the fragmentation problems of the Android system. Due to Apple making all the devices however you need to pay a premium for an iOS device and the market doesn't really bend to the user with Apple controlling the price.

Currently the market leader in terms of how many handsets use it, Android is a system run by google and is used in a huge number of handsets made by a number of manufacturers. The phones range massively from the high tech dual core phones such as the HTC Sensation and Samsung Galaxy S2 to the budget range devices like the HTC Wildfire or the Orange San Francisco. The handsets have a lot of choice ranging from full touchscreens to qwerty keyboards and are fully customiseable.

In regards to the mobile phone Android is currently on version 2.3 (Gingerbread) though older devices are still running much older versions of the system including some working phones running 2.1 (Eclair) and 2.2 (Froyo) which has lead to a fragmented system with a lot of variation. Apps are downloaded from the Market though may not appear with certain versions of the OS.

Blackberry OS
Created by Research In Motion (RIM) the Blackberry operating system is used on Blackberry phones and is up to version 7 though, like Android, the older handsets aren't able to to use the newer versions of the operating system with some stuck way back at version 4.5 (though most are more up to date). The Blackberry system has become hugely popular with both the business customers and the teenage market due to the the E-mail client and the hugely popular BlackBerry Messenger (BBM).

From a style point of view the phones almost all features a qwerty keyboard though this does mean that screen space is limited and from a technical point the phones are all limited compared to the top Androids and iPhones. The operating system is still a major player in the market due to hitting the trendy teen market though for serious phone buyers they may feel a little dated.

Windows Mobile 7
Owned by Microsoft Windows Mobile 7 (WM7) is the mobile version of the popular desktop operating system. Windows mobiles are still relatively rare though do seem to have the backing and clout to really become a force. The phones have a number of appealing features such as Xbox live and Microsoft Office Mobile though still seem a bit weak when compared to the other 3 formats.

Windows phones are made by a number of companies though though all are made to a minimum standard set by Microsoft to try and standardise the handset and development of the OS though with only a handful of phones available with the system it seems unlikely that they will mount a serious challenge or have a killer phone for a long time.

As well as the "the big 4" there is a number of other systems such as BADA which are slowly being phased out as manufacturers drop their own systems in favour of a more established system.

Why are smartphones becoming so popular?

Smartphones have boomed in recent years and become a symbol of "cool" though outside of the fashion they have just made life easier. Not only can you check E-mails, and social media sites where ever you are but the phones also combine a huge number of functions. The devices have become games machines, HD video Cameras, digital cameras, MP3 players, portable TV's, Internet browsers and even an office in your pocket. Smart phones have moved from letting you mark calendars and play snake to playing 3D games, doing your work and watching movies.

What are the problems with Smartphones?

A number of problems have emerged with Smartphones, the most obvious is that the batteries are seen to be a major issue and can often need a nightly charge, though another issue is that the market is moving incredibly swiftly. A top Android bought today (think against to Samsung Galaxy S2 or the HTC Sensation) look likely to be made to look like a really poor device come Q1 2012 when a number of Quad Core devices are being rumoured to be released.
The phones also have a number of security issues. iPhones have been shown to track the users destination whilst BBM information is on the verge of being handed to the police following the 2011 Riots in the UK. All the phones however have security issues regarding E-mails which could be exploited if a 3rd party gets a hold of your handset.
Another issue is that the phones need data connections. Although many network providers are offering various allowances it's hard to tell you how much you will actually need, I'd advise a minimum of 500mb personally to be on the safe side, though with the likes of Facebook, Ebuddy, Youtube and various map based applications you may well end up using a 1GB or even more on an occasional basis.

What does the future hold?
We really don't know what the future brings, the foreseeable future is likely to bring quad core processing, 3D displayes, Near Field Communication (NFC) to allow touchless payment, 4G (which still hasn't began rollout in the UK) and even recording ability ahead of HD. In fact the rate phones are progressing don't be surprised if they will become 3D video camera's in the next 3 or 4 years and become capable of complete 3D manipulation capable of running games equal to a PS2 or a Xbox.