According to a report from the U.S. Census Bureau, more people own smartphones than any other computing device. In countries all around the world, most adults own a smartphone. It feels like smartphones have certainly replaced computers for many people, but is that because smartphones are computers?
Smartphones are powerful computers, as shown by their capabilities, hardware, and software. A smartphone is a type of mobile device, a general term for any portable cellular computer with voice calling capabilities that’s small enough to fit in your hand. Smartphones can do everything a computer can do and more.
This article will discuss these points in more detail and explain the transformation from phone-focused devices into the palm-sized computers we know and love. We will also cover why some people choose one versus owning both a smartphone and a PC.
Smartphones Versus Traditional Computers
Smartphones have transformed cellular phones from something used only for voice calls and text messages into miniature computers that seem to do anything and everything. In fact, the definition for “smartphone” involves a cell phone plus an advanced operating system that combines elements of a Personal Computer (PC) operating system and any other features deemed useful for mobile use.
Essentially, the only perceived difference between a smartphone and a traditional computer is the obvious size. However, modern smartphones have impressively high screen resolution and picture quality. Because of this, phones are great for watching movies and TV shows, which most people don’t typically do on a personal computer.
Smartphones may have more in common with a laptop computer than a desktop, but there are still some differences. Laptops usually come standard with a built-in keyboard and trackpad or mouse. Smartphones utilize their touchscreen for these functions.
Cellular Data and Mobility
Another significant difference between a Smartphone and a traditional computer is cellular and wireless capability. Both smartphones and standard computers have access to WiFi, but the difference is in cellular signal capacity.
With a cellular data plan, smartphones can connect to the internet from virtually anywhere. Sitting at your office desk every day, you are unlikely to need cellular service and mobility on that desktop computer. With a smartphone, of course, you do need that mobility, and there are more laptops and other devices that are now made with these same cellular abilities.
If you travel a lot or just need a lot of mobility in your computer devices, there are obvious benefits and shortcomings between smartphones, tablets, and laptops. All three have superior capabilities in certain areas and scenarios.
The Transition From Computer to Tablet to Smartphone
Around 2010, the first iPad came onto the scene, becoming the most popular tablet to date. The iPad’s launch seemed to bring to life what Steve Jobs said back in 1983 when he stated that Apple’s goal was to put “an incredibly great computer in a book that you can carry around with you,” going on to mention features like wireless and network capabilities.
The iPad was larger than the already released iPhone but had many of the same capabilities. It offered a bigger screen for multimedia use. The touch screen capabilities allowed users to complete tasks on the tablet without needing extra items like a mouse or stylus.
The iPad and other tablets didn’t fully replace laptop computers as many people predicted. They just didn’t have the same power as a full-size laptop computer, and touchscreen keyboards weren’t ideal for word processing.
Later Generations of Tablets
Later generations of tablets have become more like laptops with full-sized keyboard attachments, wireless mice, and other accessories to increase their versatility for users.
Tablets continued to increase their performance capabilities, and eventually, the lines between mobile devices blurred even more. For example, Apple’s Magic Keyboard essentially turns the iPad into a laptop with a cursor and mouse – something previously unheard of for these touchscreen devices.
ARM chips which once only powered smartphones and tablets are now making their way into laptops, and desktops and changing the once consistent difference between these products.
Smartphones, Tablets, and Laptops
As tablets became more like laptops, smartphones also became more like tablets. They have steadily gotten bigger over the years as user’s needs have changed, and they have improved features like screen and camera quality.
As smartphones continue to gain additional features and capabilities, they require larger batteries, which ultimately take up more space inside the device. The result is a device with a larger footprint that maintains the slim, sleek design that consumers prefer.
These transformations and conversions have led to the present, where nearly everyone has a cellphone or smartphone, but not everyone owns a traditional computer, laptop, or tablet. This preference by users also says a lot about the capabilities of a Smartphone.
Similarities Between Smartphones and Computers
Often, a smartphone’s features and capabilities overlap with those of a computer. That’s because a smartphone is essentially a small, touchscreen, handheld computer.
Computers and smartphones have several elements in common, including a processor or chipset, operating system, and storage memory. With the right tools and a little bit of know-how, you can even use your smartphone as a substitute for a personal computer.
For example, if you use a PC or laptop for word processing, you can still access documents on your smartphone if you back them up to the cloud. Google Docs is a really easy tool that will save your work to your Google account, allowing you to access and edit documents from any device that can access the internet.
Smartphones Docking Capabilities
With a keyboard and a mouse or a doc like the Samsung DeX, it takes your Smartphone experience to the next level with the ability to use your smartphone as a desktop computer. This feature is a great option that is a simple, easy way to carry your data with you wherever you go and is great for utilizing the same computer between work and home.
The most considerable similarities between a smartphone and a computer are the capabilities and features. Basically, everything that your computer can do, a smartphone can also do with a simple app download.
Depending on your smartphone model, it also can use a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse. Smartphones of the past required you to tap on your touchscreen to use a keyboard. Still, today there are accessories like this Logitech K480 wireless keyboard (available on Amazon.com) that you can use with any smartphone or tablet. We like this one because it has a cradle that will fit different-sized devices, making it super versatile.
Computers Still Reign in Some Settings
There are some circumstances where a smartphone or other mobile device simply hasn’t replaced a standard computer. For example, retail establishments still mainly use computers for their point-of-sale systems. Of course, many retail stores and restaurants use a tablet.
However, many larger businesses (like supermarkets, department stores, home improvement stores, and so on) still use a traditional computer tower with a monitor for the cashier and one for the customer to view.
People who work in healthcare also typically still use computer systems for patient record keeping and other tasks. While some medical offices use tablets, many large hospitals and private practice offices use personal computers and laptops for their medical records and billing systems.
Desktop Computers and Security
If you go into a bank or other financial center, you’ll likely see people working on standard desktop computers. Banks and financial centers rely on secure servers to store account information like hospitals and other healthcare establishments.
In situations where security is imperative, people and businesses are much more likely to use servers and computers than devices that use mobile data or cloud services.
Other professionals that are likely to use standard desktop computers still include software developers, educators and education administrators, researchers, and various kinds of engineers, just to name a few.
Smartphone Computing Power
Computer power, speed, and capability are all variable and subjective moving targets based on many factors. According to Apple, with the release of the new iPhone 13 Pro and the A15 Bionic Chipset, it is the world’s fastest smartphone chip. It has a Superfast Neural Engine that performs up to 15.8 trillion operations per second and a new 5‑core GPU.
Now in terms of computing power, these statistics are not as fast or powerful as the fastest PC or Gaming computers. AMD’s 64-core, 128 threads, Ryzen ThreadRipper 3990X desktop PC processor is considered the current world’s fastest PC CPU but that to will change soon and currently will only set you back $5,111.36 on Amazon for just that component. This type of processor can be used for CAD, 3D rendering, UltraHD video editing, gaming, and streaming.
In Comparison, the Fugaku Supercomputer has nearly 7.3 million cores and a speed of 415.5 petaFLOPS. A petaflop is one thousand trillion, or one quadrillion, operations per second. We don’t know if your smartphone or tablet will ever have petaflop capability but you can certainly watch movies or play a video game on your new iPhone.
So, while smartphones are technically computers, there’s still a place for PCs and laptops in various personal and professional settings, and that doesn’t appear to be likely to change any time soon.
Smartphones are essentially small, handheld computers that also have voice calling capabilities. There are some differences between a smartphone and a laptop, like a built-in keyboard or tracking pad. However, even those components are available for modern phones.
As the line between traditional home computers and smartphones continues to become blurred, mobile technology becomes more capable and powerful than ever before. This is a good thing, as it makes technology more available to everyone.
Although, there is still a place for traditional computers, and it’s unlikely that mobile devices will completely replace them at any time soon. This technology will likely change dramatically with the emphasis on artificial intelligence and mobility in the future. It is expected that future computing will be all around us.
- 18 Fascinating Statistics About Smartphone Usage – BroadbandSearch
- United States Census Bureau: Computer and Internet Use in the United States, 2018
- Pew Research Center: Mobile Connectivity in Emerging Economies
- Windows Central: Smartphones are Dead Part I: This is the Age of the Mini-Tablet
- Phone Arena: Apple’s Basic iPad is by Far the World’s Most Popular Tablet
- Wikipedia: iPad
- US smartphone ownership 2021