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

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) Dualcore 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, consumers  have shown again and again that they hate gadgets that bulge out of  their pants pockets. 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?

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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