What Is the Difference Between an iPhone and a Smartphone?

By Steven Melendez

Updated August 24, 2017

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A smart phone is a type of cellphone that has many of the features found on desktop and laptop computers. These include Internet access, installable software apps and the ability to type text, typically using a touchscreen keyboard. The iPhone, made by Apple, is a popular brand of smart phone.

What Makes a Phone Smart?

A smart phone is essentially a cellphone that's also used as a computer. It can perform many of the tasks people previously used laptop and desktop computers for, including sending email, accessing social networking services, searching the Web, making online purchases, and streaming music and video. More than 77 percent of Americans use a smart phone, according to a Pew Research Center survey released in January, 2017.

One of its most important features is the ability to access the Internet, both through cellular networks and through home or office Wi-Fi. Smart phones typically come equipped with web browsers, email software, and text messaging tools, as well as access to a marketplace to install additional software, known as apps.

Their portability has changed the way people access the Internet, with users able to access search engines, email and other online tools from anywhere they are. With the devices still relatively new, scientists continue to speculate on their long-term effects on society.

The iPhone and Its Competition

The iPhone, made by Apple, is a leading brand of smart phone, used by more than 40 percent of smart phone users in the United States. First released in 2007, it introduced many features smart phone users now take for granted, including a touchscreen keyboard, high quality camera, a speedy processor that allows for powerful apps and web browsing software on par with that found on computers.

It runs an operating system called iOS. The system is also used on Apple's iPod Touch devices, which are similar to iPhones but lack phone calling capabilities, and iPad tablets. Users are able to install software through Apple's App Store, which includes everything from dating apps to word processors. The App Store and iOS itself are only available for Apple products.

The iPhone’s features soon cut into sales of other phones from major manufacturers such as BlackBerry, Palm and Nokia. Today, the iPhone's main competition comes from smart phones running the Android operating system, produced by Google. It's used by numerous manufacturers including Samsung, LG and HTC. It comes with its own app market, called Google Play. BlackBerry continues to make some smart phones running its own operating system, and some smart phones running Microsoft's Windows 10 Mobile operating system. Apps made for one operating system generally can't run on competing platforms. Many popular apps have versions available for both iPhone and smart phone operating systems from other makers, especially Android. Users of iPhones have access to some Apple-made software that's not compatible with other smart phones, including the Messages text messaging app and FaceTime tool for audio and video conferencing. Some people also prefer the design of the iPhone's hardware and operating system software.

Phone buyers aren't choosing between a smart phone or an iPhone but between different types of smart phones, including the iPhone.