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How the Leopard Got His Spots

Posted by stuart_marks on November 13, 2006 at 6:38 PM PST

I have to say that the names "phoneME Advanced" and "phoneME Feature" don't exactly roll off one's tongue. Why did we choose these names?
I wasn't privy to the entire naming process, but I'll provide some insights into the names.

The first point is that we have open-sourced our source code but not our trademarks and brands, Java in particular. So the open source project needed a new name. The ME stuff runs on many, many different kinds of devices, but phones are probably the most ubiquitous. Mobile phones are the PCs of the 21st century. As Jonathan mentioned in the press conference today, the most people's first internet experience will be through their phone. So a name incorporating "phone" makes a lot of sense.

The "ME" tag has been around for several years, ever since we introduced the Java 2 Platform, Micro Edition (J2ME). More recently this has changed to "Java ME". Interestingly, while ME originally stood for "Micro Edition" it increasingly means "Mobile & Embedded" -- which is the name of our community.

Finally, there are the suffixes "Feature" and "Advanced". What's up with them? The term "advanced" is pretty self-explanatory, I think. The term "feature phone" is a fairly obscure marketing buzzword for a particular segment of the mobile phone market. I think it's really only known to industry analysts. I don't think anybody actually walks into a cellular phone store and says "Hi, I'd like to buy a feature phone." It's one of those made-up terms that doesn't make much sense on its own. Tellingly, the Wikipedia definition defines "feature phone" more in terms of what it isn't than in terms of what it is:

Feature Phone. A term used to refer to regular mobile phones, in contrast to Smart Phones. A feature phone is best defined by what it does not have. It does not have a QWERTY board. It does not have a Touch screen. It does not have any advanced features that 90% of the cell phone market doesn't have.

This is rather like the evolution of the "acoustic" guitar. Aren't all guitars acoustic, that is, don't they all make sound? Well, originally there were just guitars. Then electric guitars came along and became very popular. Suddenly there was a need to distinguish a "plain old regular" guitar from an electric one. So, the term "acoustic" started to be used in opposition to "electric".

Originally, mobile phones were just mobile phones. Then some of them started to be combined with PDAs and added lots of other advanced capabilities. That left the plain old regular phones looking rather plain and old. The marketing people didn't want to call them plain old regular phones, so they called them "feature phones." (I guess they considered "acoustic phones" and rejected that term.)

So there you have it: phoneME Feature and phoneME Advanced. I think I'll get used to the names. Eventually.

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