If you haven’t yet heard of “phablets,” you might want get familiar with them, because ABI Research expects 208 million to sell in 2015. The word is a combination of “phone” and “tablet,” just like ABI’s definition, which is a smartphone with a tablet-like large screen. Specifically, phones with displays ranging in size from 4.6 to 5.5 inches fit this category for ABI.
I’m not a fan of the term ABI is using, but there is some recent precedent for the research firm’s sales estimates, which also include a tenfold rise in shipments this year from last. Samsung’s Galaxy Note is probably the best-known example of such a device, due to its 5.3-inch display. By the end of March, the company sold 5 million Galaxy Note handsets in just five months, with the bulk of those sales overseas. AT&T began to sell the Note with LTE support in mid February, and my review showed a capable Android device that’s large but still pocketable.
Regardless of what we call these devices or exactly what the range of screen sizes should be for them, I think ABI is on to something here. With rich media consumption on the rise on mobile devices — particularly as we get faster 4G networks and more Wi-Fi networks to supplement them — a larger display is desirable. The same can be said for Web browsing, which is one of the most popular activities on a mobile: Why scroll and zoom when a larger display minimizes such efforts?
Provided these handsets are still pocketable, consumers will adopt them because they combine the portability of a smartphone with the more immersive experience found in a tablet. That’s not to say 10-inch slate sales will fall; these fit a totally different use case for most, as they are less portable and are better suited for casual computing or consumption in a given location. A recent Viacom study, for example, found that 74 percent of tablet use is in the home.
As far as the definition of a “phablet,” I think ABI is spot-on with the screen size. Why? This gets back to the key question I suggested people ask themselves with regards to the Galaxy Note’s size: Are you a one-handed or two-handed smartphone user? Screens this large will require many to use two hands for typing and navigation, much like a tablet. I have always been a two-handed smartphone user, so the Note and my 4.65-inch Galaxy Nexus work perfectly for me. But if you’re set on one-handed smartphone use, these aren’t the devices for you, as I illustrate here:
And what about that name? I’m sure we’ll never get ABI to call them something other than “phablets,” but surely we can do better than that. I was thinking “small slabs that fit in your pocket,” although that’s a bit long. Got suggestions on a name? Drop ’em in the comments and maybe we can start a movement to ditch the word “phablet”!