The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas in the U.S. has just concluded, and among the observations that the technology media has had is about the ever-increasing size of smartphone screens. While Apple had upped the iPhone 5’s diagonal screen size to 4 inches, Android smartphone manufacturers have taken liberties at how they define “big enough.” Recently, we featured how Huawei wants to make a big break into the high-end market. Their latest device: the Huawei Ascend Mate, which at 6.1 inches in diagonal, makes us question whether it still falls under the phone category or tablet.
This category is not altogether new. Dubbed the “phablet” category — as a portmanteau of “phone” and “tablet,” this particular segment in the industry was popularized by South Korean Samsung, with its Galaxy Note line. Too big to be a regular smartphone, yet too small to be a regular tablet, this particular niche was thought to have an identity problem, to the point that observers ridiculed the way one would hold such a large device against one’s face when making calls.
But Samsung seems to have had a hit with the Galaxy Note line, which has so far been a success in the market, and with the Samsung Galaxy Note 2 succeeding the Note with even more features. The Note has so far sold 10 million units since launch. But of course, the main come-on of the Note series is its S-Pen interface, which is able to put an innovative twist to styluses and note-taking on an electronic device. This is something that other devices do not feature.
LG has launched its own Optimus Vu, while HTC has its Butterfly (Droid DNA in the U.S. market). Other manufacturers are scurrying to produce their own phablet releases. Strategy Analytics, a China-based think tank, says 2013 will be the “year of the phablet,” after all. Here are a few arguments for phablets.
How big is too big? Chinese company Huawei’s Ascend Mate “phablet” measures 6.1-inches diagonal. Would you hold that up against your ear?
Unified device for communication and content consumption. Imagine carrying a smartphone in your pocket. And then imagine carrying a tablet in your backpack or purse. Smartphones are great for talking and texting, and the occasional email and IM. But once you try reading webpages and e-books, your eyes might start complaining. That’s what tablets are for. It’s quite cumbersome to carry separate devices, though. Isn’t it better when you can combine these into one — a phablet?
Visual content vs. voice calls. Another big argument toward the use of tablets is the fact that voice usage is dwindling in favor of data and content. Phablets are the “new normal,” says TechCrunch. “Smaller was better until phones got smart, became visual,” says a Singapore-based executive who is a fan of the Galaxy Note and Note 2 devices.
The sweet spot. Analysts say the phablet size and form factor hits the sweet spot between usability and portability. Suddenly, your 4-inch iPhone 5 seems to be too limited in terms of screen real estate. 5-inches would give you more to read or watch, but still providing a pocketable form factor.
Apple seems to have eschewed the phablet craze when it launched the iPhone 5. The screen was a bit bigger, but it made up for the extra size in height, keeping the phone still fashionably slim. But Apple’s latest iPad Mini has been its best-seller lately, given its portability and lower price (relative to the full-size iPad). But wait, the 3G-enabled iPad Mini can practically be a mobile phone already, with text-messaging features. Discounting the pre-installed FaceTime, the only thing we need is the ability to make calls, and it would now be an oversized phablet!
But Huawei’s ascend mate takes the award of being the biggest real phablet so far. Would you hold such a big device against your head for calls? Maybe, maybe not. Either way, these devices aren’t going to disappear anytime soon. It will be up to developers how to build great content and apps for phablets, and for users to be creative with how to communicate.