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Misuse of labels: On the definitions of "mobile" and "computer"

Sam Abuelsamid

In the world of corporate communications, a big part of delivering a message involves defining the terms of the discussion. Over the past few weeks, both Apple CEO Steve Jobs and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg have been caught up in this action while discussing the mobile space. During the most recent Apple quarterly earnings call, Jobs tried to redefine what an open platform is when comparing iOS to Android. Zuckerberg raised eyebrows last week when he declared that the slim and lightweight iPad was a computer, not a mobile device.

The problem is that while people like to categorize stuff for easy black-and-white comparisons, we live in a universe of color. Applying one label to a device (or person or action) does not necessarily preclude other labels from also being true at the same time. For example, when Zuckerberg said that the iPad was not mobile, he later clarified that he meant that it wasn't a phone, which was the main topic of discussion at the Facebook event. The iPad is obviously both mobile and a computer, but it isn't a phone. Similarly, an iPod touch is not a phone, but it is mobile; it also has many properties of a computer, though most people wouldn't call it that. The Barnes & Noble Nook Color is clearly an e-book reader by design, despite its lack of an e-ink screen.

So how do we get around this conundrum? We need to stop insisting on easily digested sound bites and call out anyone who tries to inappropriately apply labels in an attempt to misdirect the conversation. Describe what something does and doesn't do, and let people decide for themselves if it is the best choice for them.

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