Are smartphones computers?


stormWe’ve heard folks claim that today’s smartphones are so powerful compared to years ago that they should be considered computers.  Matt Miller carries that thought with his observation that Nokia was the world’s largest computer maker in 2008.  I’m sure that Nokia agrees with Matt and he’s referred to some compelling arguments for that thought but me I can’t buy it.

I am first to agree that any device with a processor that can do computing type tasks are technically computers but there’s some semantics involved that gets in the way.  We think of computers as those systems that lets us do our work, all of our work, whether in the office or on the run.  Smartphones can often do in a pinch but I certainly wouldn’t want to try to do all my work on one.



Smartphones are definitely miniature computers. We are quickly approaching the day where cell phones and laptops will be obsolete and we will carry around computers that have a “phone” feature. :)


“Intended purpose”? As a mind of the hacker persuasion, I laugh at your intended purpose! >=D (he said as Opera Mobile once again flashes the “Out of memory” error message)


Technically speaking, your HP48SX programmable calculator was a computer. That ends up not being avery interesting definition of computer because practically everything that’s the least bit programmable is then a computer.

I think “computer” brings with it the connotation of general purpose. i.e., they aren’t intended for any specific application. They do whatever it is you want them to do. In that case, the answer is probably “not yet.” e.g., you may not be editing videos, composing soundtracks and mastering DVDs on your smartphone right now. In a few years, maybe you’ll be able to. However, by then, we probably won’t call them smartphones.


“do you believe the statement that Nokia is the biggest computer maker in 2008?” — It’s correct based on the standard of measurement. The question is whether that standard is accurate.

Smartphones meet the technical definition of computers, so the point of contention is whether they fall within the realm of appliances. While all computerized appliances can be hacked beyond their original purpose, whether a computer is an appliance is determined by whether it is intended to be extended beyond its original design.

For example, while game consoles are powerful computers, they are considered appliances because their intent is specific to gaming and home entertainment. While that covers a broad range, their purpose is specified.

Smartphones are a bit trickier because they are designed with purposes in mind (communications, PIM, and usually entertainment), but are also designed to perform other duties via software applications. One could argue they are multi-function appliances and being a computer is one of those functions. But it could also be argued that because they are designed to function as computers, then they are computers. I see no logical fault with either interpretation, but I lean toward the latter.

James Kendrick

I wasn’t implying the work scenario as the only standard of definition. But, and this is big, do you believe the statement that Nokia is the biggest computer maker in 2008?


“We think of computers as those systems that let us do our work, all of our work, whether in the office or on the run.” — By that logic, if my job only entailed talking on the phone and transmitting photos with GPS info over the Internet, then a smartphone would be a computer. But if I quit that job and worked on spreadsheets all day, then my smartphone would cease to be a computer. And if I went back to my old job, then my smartphone would once again be a computer, but the desktop I used for spreadsheets, which cannot satisfy my work needs, would cease to be a computer. Think there might be a slight flaw with tying the definition of “computer” with one’s work needs.


“wouldn’t want to do all my work on one.”

Since when did something this subjective become the defacto standard? I can do a lot on my netbook but I would not want to write a novel on it. I COULD but I would not WANT to. I could also write a novel on an iPod Touch but I would not WANT to do that either.

Not a good standard James.

(written from my pocket computer…. I mean iPhone). :)


I think smartphones are computers but they really aren’t that smart. Once they become self-aware that will be one very smart phone.


I thought the term “computers” referred to the HUMANS that worked on the world’s first computer for the Pentagon (ENIAC). I don’t know how it got turned around to refer to the machines instead.

Bored SysAdmin

“Smartphones can often do in a pinch but I certainly wouldn’t want to try to do all my work on one.”
But what if the smartphones would carry heavy underclocked cpu which would switch to full gear then docked and pluged into external Monitor/Keyb/Mouse/Power and os smart enough to scale things properly?

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