Yes, Your Smartphone Really Is a Computer

I have a confession to make. I don’t own a smartphone. There, I said it.

That may come as a surprise, especially from a self-professed web marketing geek like myself. It’s not that I don’t want one, it’s that I don’t really need one; I have all the computers I need in the places I need them most—at home and at work. And I don’t really feel the urgency to get online in the supermarket or at the doctor’s office. Sure, letting all my Facebook friends know I’ve been stuck in the waiting room for the past 20 minutes would be vindicating; but that’s a luxury an expensive data plan can’t justify.

Meanwhile, a debate is raging online over whether the iPad should be considered a computer or not.

As an iPad owner, I find the “against” arguments to be downright absurd. Like this one:

If tablets are classed as PCs then why not smartphones? Or smartfridges? Or digital watches?

Okay, why not smartfridges? Especially one that has an 8-inch touchscreen, with apps like Pandora and WeatherBug, and lets you find recipes, news, and view photos in Picasa. Even lacking those features, a smartfridge lets you use your smartphone as a computer—checking the contents of your fridge from the supermarket, rather than using a handwritten list.

So my definition of a computer is:

Any device that allows you to install third-party software which enables you to perform a task or function you would normally perform in an analog (i.e., non-digital) fashion.

When I was a 17-year-old delivery driver, I used an antiquated device known as a “map book” to get driving directions. Today, there’s an app for that. The fact that I can install Google Maps (a third-party software app) and perform that function on a smartphone makes that smartphone a computer. Lifehacker makes the case that your smartphone is a better PC than your PC ever was or will be.

Why does it matter? Because, as a business owner or marketer, you must stop thinking of that thing on your consumer’s hip or in their purse as a phone. It’s not. It’s a computer. What’s more, it’s a personal computer. I mean, what’s more personal than your cell phone? Several people may share a home phone or computer, but who shares a cell phone? If we don’t stop such backwards thinking, we’ll sound like this 1995 Newsweek article entitled, The Internet? Bah!

Try reading a book on disc. At best, it’s an unpleasant chore: the myopic glow of a clunky computer replaces the friendly pages of a book. And you can’t tote that laptop to the beach. Yet Nicholas Negroponte, director of the MIT Media Lab, predicts that we’ll soon buy books and newspapers straight over the Internet. Uh, sure.

Then there’s cyberbusiness. We’re promised instant catalog shopping—just point and click for great deals. We’ll order airline tickets over the network, make restaurant reservations and negotiate sales contracts. Stores will become obsolete. So how come my local mall does more business in an afternoon than the entire Internet handles in a month? Even if there were a trustworthy way to send money over the Internet—which there isn’t—the network is missing a most essential ingredient of capitalism: salespeople.

The fact that millions of people are carrying around a personalized computing device is a game-changer. Each year since 2000, pundits have predicted that year will be “the year of the mobile consumer.” If we’re not there yet, we’re close. Smartphone usage is hovering just below 50 percent of total U.S. mobile phones.

Mobile is causing a fundamental shift in society where consumers are evolving into connected consumers. This connected mindset is empowering as people take advantage of on-demand access to not just information, but other people, opinions, shared experiences, and a bevy of apps and resources to help make more informed and efficient decisions than ever before.

Just look around you at any restaurant or waiting room. What do you see most people doing? Don’t miss the opportunity to market to them.

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Update: A few months after writing this article, I did indeed get a smartphone. And, yes, I would drive back home to get it if I left without it.

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