Last year, in May, was when I first wrote about the rise of the phablet. The success enjoyed by the Samsung Galaxy Note took many by surprise, and led to the earlier discussion about the direction in which this type of device was heading. Almost a year in, and the picture has become a lot clearer, but has also given rise to a few more questions. Is the phablet going to just be a fad? Are these devices going to find mainstream success or continue to be a part of a niche category? Can we stop calling these over-sized smartphones, “phablets?” Today, we attempt to answer some of these questions for you.
See Also: The history of the Phablet
“Phablets are just a fad.” – Flurry
Flurry, an app analytics firm, made quite a bold statement in a recent report, stating that phablets are just a fad. Flurry pulled its data from developers that make use of the company’s performance analytics, to gather information on user location, level of app activity, and the devices in use. For the latest report, the company broke down the information based on screen size, stating that medium sized devices (screen size between 3.5-inch and 4.9-inch) are the most popular, while users of large-sized tablets are comparatively the most active.
The report found that only 2% of the total device models fell in the phablet (5-inch to 6.9-inch) category, and even when you look at the numbers based on the OS, since all current phablet devices run just Android, only 7% of Android devices fall in this group.
But is that enough to write it off as a fad? No. Here’s why.
This is just the beginning
Samsung proved with the Galaxy Note and the Galaxy Note 2 that there is definitely a market for such large devices. This has led a number of manufacturers releasing phablets of their own, and finding success as well, such as the LG Optimus G Pro. While the Galaxy Note 2 and the LG Optimus G Pro are both high-end devices, there are a slew of budget-friendly phablets that Chinese and Indian manufacturers are flooding their local markets with. At such low costs, it’s definitely worth it to have a smartphone with a large screen that can be used as a primary device. At least in markets such as India, where it isn’t always feasible for consumers to own a smartphone as well as a tablet, the availability of phablets certainly works out well. Consumers now interact with their device displays for videos, gaming, and more, as opposed to just using the phone for its primary purpose – to talk. Larger displays certainly makes sense.
Following the release of the 6.1-inch Huawei Ascend Mate, there have been a lot of rumors of similarly-sized devices from other device manufacturers such as Sony, ZTE, and of course Samsung, which will most likely be releasing a Galaxy Note 3 later this year. Phablets may never overtake the popularity of medium-sized phones, but are they just a passing phase? I don’t think so.
Okay, so it isn’t a fad. But will it ever be mainstream?
The answer to this question depends entirely on what direction OEMs want to take their devices. With all the talk about phablets, even this year, two out of four flagship device we’ve seen so far, the Sony Xperia Z and the Samsung Galaxy S4, just touch the line with 5-inch displays, while HTC decided to stick with a smaller 4.7-inch screen. Only LG decided to launch the 5.5-inch Optimus G Pro, but with rumors of an LG Optimus G2, we may see a sub 5-inch flagship from the company as well. Even though Samsung has found a lot of success with its current Galaxy Note series, the company’s flagship is still the comparatively smaller Galaxy S4. It’s also important to note that for now, the phablet concept is restricted to only Android devices. It may be years before we see an iPhablet, and Windows Phone manufacturers and Blackberry aren’t ready to push the limits just yet.
But with 5-inch devices slowly becoming the standard for Android smartphones, another question comes up. Going forward, do we need the term “phablet?”
Re-defining the phablet
Last year, the only point of reference we had for a definition of the term “phablet” was the Samsung Galaxy Note. It was easy to define the term as a device that features a display that falls in the 5-inch to 7-inch range. While this definition mostly holds true, the lines have been blurred even more, with smartphones like the 5-inch HTC Butterfly, Sony Xperia Z and ZL, and the upcoming Samsung Galaxy S4 entering the picture. Maybe it’s time to start calling such devices what they are?
A smartphone. Regardless of how big the screen gets, and the limits are certainly being pushed by companies like Huawei with the 6.1-inch Ascend Mate, all these devices are smartphones. With the smallest high-end smartphone featuring a 4.7-inch display (HTC One), the need for another category is increasingly becoming redundant. Over-sized, huge, massive, unnecessarily large, whatever the adjective you want to preface it with, these devices are all just smartphones.
Granted, we’re now seeing tablets with voice-calling capabilities, giving rise to term Fonblet (please let that not become a thing), but that’s another discussion entirely, but also gives rise to an interesting point.
How big is too big?
When the Galaxy Note was first announced, I thought it was way too big to be used as a phone. I thought the same thing with the Galaxy Note 2 was released. But even though one-handed use is almost impossible, it’s nothing you can’t get used to. That being said, the thought process will probably continue when an even bigger Note 3 is launched. With rumors of Samsung releasing a “Fonblet” similar to the Asus Fonepad, and a ridiculous-sounding 8.5-inch smartphone from Huawei, at some point a line has to be drawn. I’ll leave that answer up to you.
How big is too big? Do you think phablets are just a fad, or smartphones with large displays here to stay? Should we retire the term “phablet?” Share your thoughts in the comments section below.