A Smartphone Primer – Part 1

Part 1 – Overview 

What is a Smartphone? 

The traditional PDA (personal digital assistant) is a device that does not have cell phone capabilities although it still can have wireless capabilities such as Wi-Fi or Bluetooth.  A Smartphone on the other hand is a PDA that has both the traditional PDA functions plus a cellular radio.

A Smartphone is a “converged” device… this means you can have both the functionality of a PDA plus the functionality of a phone in a single device.   A fine idea if executed well since one device is more convenient than carrying two.   However, there may be compromises and you could end up with a PDA that’s not quite as powerful and a cell phone that is not quite as compact as a standalone.

Operating Systems 

Using the generally accepted definition of a Smartphone, you can find devices that run on a variety of operating systems.   Nokia phones use the Symbian operating system.   Blackberrys use their own proprietary operating system.   The new Apple iPhone is using a derivative of the Unix operating system.   The Palm Treo can be purchased with either the Palm or the Windows Mobile operating systems.    Before deciding on a phone, you should decide what software you plan on purchasing since applications written for one operating system cannot be used on the others. 

Pocket Genealogist uses the Windows Mobile operating system.  To my knowledge, there is no currently available genealogy software for Nokia, Blackberry or the Apple iPhone.  (Apple will not allow installation of 3rd party applications on the iPhone unless it is a “web browser” based.)

In the Windows Mobile world, a Smartphone historically was a device that did not have a touchscreen.   There were 3 different versions of Windows Mobile:

  1. Windows Mobile – these were the “traditional” PDA generally known as Pocket PCs.
  2. Windows Mobile Phone Edition – these were PDA/phone combination devices that were basically a “traditional” PDA with phone capabilities.  These devices had a touchscreen and were also known as Pocket PC’s.
  3. Windows Mobile for Smartphone – these were the PDA/phone combination devices that did not have a touchscreen.  All software interaction is done with buttons  (no stylus).

However, since most people think of a Smartphone as any PDA/phone device, Microsoft has re-branded the Windows Mobile versions starting with Windows Mobile 6:

  1. Windows Mobile “Classic” – for “traditional” PDA’s.
  2. Windows Mobile “Standard” – for PDA/Phone devices that do not have a touchscreen.
  3. Windows Mobile “Professional” – for PDA/Phone devices that do have a touchscreen.

Pocket Genealogist supports both touchscreen and non-touchscreen devices.  We thought there would be too much confusion when people purchased Windows Mobile devices to know if Pocket Genealogist would work… so we support them all!


Cellular networks use primarily two different technologies.  GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) and CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access).   It’s not important that we know the technical details on how each works other than phones designed for one network will not work on the other.   GSM is the predominant technology world-wide although CDMA has a strong presence in the United States and can be found elsewhere in the world (South Korea, for example).

In the United States, AT&T/Cingular and T-Mobile use the GSM network, and Verizon, Sprint, and Alltel use the CDMA network.

With CDMA networks, you typically are required to purchase the CDMA phone from the cellular provider.    CDMA phones purchased elsewhere generally will not work.  (Ask your cellular provider if they will allow CDMA phones purchased outside of their network.) 

With GSM networks, you can purchase any unlocked GSM capable phone and use it on your network by inserting your SIM card from your old phone.   (An unlocked phone means that it has not been “locked” to work with a specific cellular provider.)   The United States and Europe use slightly different frequencies on the GSM network but the phone you purchase in your area should be correct for your frequencies.   (Some GSM phones are considered “world band” phones and will work properly in any location.)

Phone Subsidies

Most cellular providers subsidize the phone you purchase from them as a means to lock you into a multi-year contract.   Purchasing a phone directly from the manufacturer can be considerably more expensive as you are bypassing the subsidies.  Therefore, your first consideration when shopping for a new Smartphone should be models offered by your cell phone provider as they will likely be considerably less expensive.

Coming up next 

In the next installment of “A Smartphone Primer” we will cover the various styles of Windows Mobile Smartphones on the market.

Kevin Phillips

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