Do smartphones really exist? I recently had a drink with a fellow tech journalist who dismissed the idea as just another buzzword - up there with Web 2.0-isms like 'the cloud' or 'hive mind' (or, for the really trendy, 'Web 3.0').
He's wrong obviously - my smartphone is lying quietly beside me this very moment - but guy did have a point. A lot of what passes under a smartphone tag isn't all that smart - you might be able to get email, surf the web and send hilarious photos to Facebook, but though it's a phone that can do other things, it's not particularly good at doing those things.
Part of it is the hardware of course - touch-screens that can't keep up with my typing, or a five megapixel camera that requires the steadiness of a statue to take a decent photo. But manufacturers can only take so much of the heat - it's often software that marks the difference between a phone that can do internet and an actual hand-sized computer.
A smartphone should make internet, email and social networking as easy as it is on a computer. Phones like the iPhone, HTC Desire and Palm Pre are the closest yet to a real desktop-like experience - though the iPhone still can't multitask, while the Pre's screen is too small for me to really enjoy web surfing. HTC Desire? Well, we got our fingerprints all over that 3.7-inch AMOLED honey in this video, and so far, it's shaping up to be the most smartphone-like of the new batch of so-called smartphones.
What divides these three phones the most though, are their operating systems, and the apps available on these OSes. Palm's webOS, iPhone OS and Android OS in conjunction with HTC's excellent Sense UI are all simple, fluid systems capable of making high-end processes feel like a breeze - and that's the core of being a smartphone. Anything else is just a phone that can get online.