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CES: The Six Features That Will Define The SuperPhone of 2011

Eric Lai, Senior Writer | January 5, 2011 in Mobile Data and Messaging,Mobile Industry,Mobility | Comments (0)

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Silicon Valley marketers pump out tech jargon like a teenage girl changes her clothes (sorry Katy Perry).

It’s not a meritocracy; catchy names don’t always catch on. Remember the smartbook, aka a netbook with ARM guts? Introduced by Qualcomm in early 2009, smartbook seems to be dying a slow death, trampled under the bumrush for tablets.

For most of 2010, the SuperPhone looked like it could go down the same path as the smartbook. Touted when Google launched the Nexus One year ago, the problem was that the Nexus One wasn’t superior enough to other smartphones to earn the superphone moniker. There was also the small thing of the Nexus One being a commercial flop.

Samsung CSO Omar Khan gave his best try in July to define the superphone, but it was both too vague - superphones are “optimized from a silicon perspective, a hardware perspective and a software perspective,” Khan said – and, again, not WOW enough. How does a 4-inch-plus screen and a 5-8 megapixel camera blow past the 2010′s state-of-the-art smartphone, the iPhone 4?

At CES today, Nvidia showed off its dual-core Tegra chips powering the coming LG Optimus 2X, which CEO Jen-Hsun Huang declared to be the first true SuperPhone.

It was an impressive demo, one that I think will cement the SuperPhone category this year, and clearly differentiate it from plain ol Smartphones (which will continue to dominate shipments).

Granted, specs are a constantly moving target, but for 2011, I propose that we define SuperPhones as having at minimum these attributes:

1) Dual-core ARM chips of at least 1 GHz each. Two cores doesn’t mean double the performance. In fact, the performance boost from two cores will be even less obvious than on a PC, since it is easier to multi-task and run several jobs at once on a computer than a phone. Still, the gain will be big enough to create a gulf between smart and super.

2) Great Adobe Flash performance. That’s something Huang showed off during his demo on Wednesday, and something the top Android smartphones lacked in 2010.

3) 1080p high-def streaming video that can be output to TVs/monitors via HDMI. That would differentiate from the 720p-capable smartphones today.

4) Greater than 3G network connectivity. In the US, that means both ‘true’ 4G services such as Verizon LTE and Sprint’s Wi-Max, as well as HSPA+ networks of AT&T and T-Mobile that critics say are 4G wannabes.

5) At least a 500,000 pixel display. Top-of-the-line smartphones last year mostly maxed out at about 400,000 pixels (480 x 800 was common). An iPhone 4, for comparison, has a 610,000 pixel display. So a 500,000 pixel count doesn’t seem unreasonable.

6) Access to a vibrant app ecosystem. Today, I would only count iOS and Android as possessing those.

Here are a few things a SuperPhone doesn’t need IMHO:

1) A physical keyboard. Nice to have, but hardly a requirement, as Apple proved.

2) Greater-than-3.5-inch screen. Increasing pixel density is more important, as Apple proved, then larger screens. Besides, the vast majority of the world are not engineers and thus unwilling to carry $500 bits of electronic in the pocket of our dress shirts. If we were, then we’d all be using Dell Streaks today, right? (See 3:58-4:21 of this video if you want to hear a seemingly-reasonably-but-utterly wrong view on what form factor most consumers want).

3) Greater-than-5-megapixel camera. While pixel count is key on displays, I think it’s a little overrated on cameras. It’s the lenses/flashes that continue to lag on phones.

4) 3D display. I’m in the anti-3D camp, for sure. Just don’t see the point.

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What do you think will define the SuperPhone category this year?

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