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They're not just for making calls, and they don't have a lot to do with cells. Maybe it's time to name the ubiquitous gadget something else
You see them everywhere. The minute the plane hits the tarmac, someone whips one out. Walking down the street and driving a car, they're said to give you tunnel vision. Their ringing can be so annoying, movie theaters run humorous videos highlighting the consequences of disturbing the peace.
A lot of people, then, might be happy to learn that cell phones may soon may be dead—killed by the very people who make them. That is, the name, at least.
More Than a Cell
Amid the rise of so-called smart phones that do everything from browsing the Web to downloading and storing pictures and music, there's a growing concern that what today we refer to as a cell phone, isn't quite the right description for these new do-all gadgets. Nokia executives, for example, say we've entered the age of "the multimedia computer."
Samsung Electronics calls this new category of devices the "mobile informational terminal." Sony Ericsson would probably be happy if you called them the Walkman phone. At least that name rolls off the tongue a little easier, although it's doubtful manufacturers like Nokia (NOK) and Samsung would go along.
What's in a name? Plenty, it seems. The cellular system got its name by dividing cities into small cell sites. The frequencies overlapped across a city, handing off contact from one tower to another as you walk or drive so that millions of people can use cell phones simultaneously without losing a call.
Problem is, they were designed mainly to accommodate voice calls. And technology leaders feel the name is antiquated. New multipurpose handsets soon will easily switch between cellular networks, Wi-Fi, and WiMax, a longer-range broadband network. "I don't think we have a good name," says Intel (INTC) Executive Vice-President Sean Maloney. "If it's just doing voice, a cell phone is a great name."
Wired Is Tired
Startups like OQO have been selling a handheld PC called simply Model 01 that can make Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) calls. The founders of OQO believe the name Ultra Mobile PC, touted by Microsoft (MSFT) and Intel, eventually will stick for higher-end do-all gadgets. "Pretty soon, we're going to need a name for devices that are not wirelessly connected," says co-founder Jory Bell. "They'll be museum pieces, relics, 'old-school', phone classic."
Others aren't so sure. Many believe the big players are pushing names that sound clunky and foreign. Users in Britain appear quite happy with the all-encompassing moniker, "mobile." What's your preference? Fill in the comment box below and let us know.