Phablets – A needed niche or a niched need?

Phablets or too-small-tablets or oversized smartphones or however you want to call them, are devices with screens of (approx.) 5” to 7” and some come with a stylus pen (Really. I also thought the stylus era is happily behind us). Wanted or not, the mobile industry is going through a major effort to launch smartphone/tablet hybrid devices, with Samsung leading the way by managing to sell 10 million Galaxy Notes in less than a year (a 5,3” screen, introduced in October last year). This is the first device in this category with any significant commercial success. LG has followed suit and has already sold 500.000 Optimus Vu (5” screen) devices in Japan and Korea, planning to launch globally in September, trusting that their 4:3 screen ratio will be the key differentiator. Panasonic’s Eluga Power (5”) is an attempt to re-enter the mobile market and compete head to head with Samsung and LG with this oversized high-end smartphone. An Indian device manufacturer Micromax has also launched their 5” Canvas A100 device for Indian markets – challenging all other device manufacturers with this early launch in an emerging device category. …not surprisingly Apple is rumored to have something in the works as well.

It is unclear to me whether this device will replace your phone. For some users it probably will, and some will use it as an additional tool when not carrying a tablet. To me a mobile phone’s key quality is that you can have it with you wherever you go, and in order to do this, a device needs to be small enough to fit your hand and your pocket. Is 5” stretching it? Or perhaps these devices come with a bum bag and also turn around the fashion industry….

Although the form factor and size seem inconvenient, I agree browsing, watching videos, and playing Angry Birds are probably all more appealing with a 5” screen, compared to the 3,5” screen of my iPhone. Still I doubt the screen is large enough for example to efficiently use PowerPoint, modify Excel sheets or even to sketch or draw – I would still choose to use tablet or laptop for these, and frankly also for videos and games. The screen of my smartphone today is large enough to read news and emails on a bus, while still being small enough to take with me on a run to listen Spotify and track my route.

The phablet size of devices still remains an unproven device category, but since tablets are now accepted by the masses, it might increase the consumer acceptance for oversized smartphones as well (vendors seem to think so). Nevertheless this “something for everyone” approach of adding devices with new screen sizes to the markets seems to contradict with the mobile markets traditional goal of trying to benefit from economies of scale. It feels one really does not need an oversized mobile device to carry around (and I especially doubt we’ll all start using the stylus ever again…), but it all depends how much we as consumers are willing to compromise in size in order to enhance the user experience?

Manufacturers at least seem certain to bet for this trend – the list of rumored launches is impressive (see below). Maybe I am missing something here, we shall wait and see, it will anyhow be an exciting Autumn in mobile device arena! If successful, it is certain the accessory business will get a boost from this!

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