© Ugur Akinci
Did you also notice that we’re not using the word “telephone” anymore? And of course I’m not even mentioning that other tele-word that has disappeared from our universe with the invention of email: telegram.
But what about “phones”? And “mobile devices”? Or “mobile platforms”? Do we as technical communicators always know what we’re talking about when we use these terms?
The question was raised and answered with good contextual awareness during a recent Madcap-sponsored webinar delivered by Neil Perlin of Hyper/Word Services, a veteran of many GUI and terminology wars within the last 30 years.
Here are some phone terms and definitions that all technical writers should think about since there are no standard definitions yet over the horizon and any error about what they mean can end up costing precious time and money for someone in the documentation chain.
Any phone (oops, I almost said “telephone”!) that receives communication and tracking signals from “cell towers.”
Wikipedia says: “An electronic device used to make mobile telephone calls across a wide geographic area, served by many public cells, allowing the user to be mobile. By contrast, a cordless telephone is used only within the range of a single, private base station, for example within a home or an office.”
I think this general definition is correct. However, it is so general that it’s not useful at all.
Here is the Wikipedia definition: “A modern low-end mobile phone that is not a smartphone.”
A phone with “more features than a dumb mobile phone.”
“Dumb”? What happened to the Eleventh Commandment that “thou shalt not commit anthropomorphism in technical documentation” ?
Wikipedia brings another distinction to what makes a phone a “Feature Phone”: it runs its own unique software but not a “true and complete mobile operating system.” True and complete ?
In 2009, 83% of all mobile (cellular) phones sold in the USA were “feature phones.” I wonder what the percentage is nowadays.
So, if next time a client asks you whether you document “feature phones,” will you be able to know what he or she is referring to?
“A smartphone is a high-end mobile phone that offers more advanced computing ability and connectivity than a contemporary feature phone (i.e. a modern low-end phone).” [Contemporary? As if there were feature phones in the 19th century.]
So, the way I understand it, a smartphone is actually a “really smart feature phone.”
It runs a complete mobile operating system like Apple iOS, Google Android, Microsoft Windows Phone 7, Nokia Symbian, Research In Motion BlackBerry OS, and embedded Linux distributions such as Maemo and MeeGo, according to Wikipedia.
It seems like it makes sense to talk only about smartphones in our technical documents and entertain the other terms for historic purposes only.
However, the issue is still not settled for good and confusion reigns on the search engines.
If for example you do a Google Image search for “feature phone”, you’ll see a lot of smartphones in the search results, including iPhones and Android phones.