'Phablets' - smartphone/tablet hybrids - are fast becoming a consumer favourite. And this preference for smaller tablets and larger smartphones is changing the way people use their mobile devices.

Half-tablet, half-smartphone: 'phablet' sales are skyrocketing

The very first iPhone surprised the mass market with its touchscreen, which was quite a reasonable size for that time. However, it was the launch of Samsung’s Galaxy Note II that brought the word ‘phablet’ into our lexicon, with an advertising campaign accompanying the launch that played on the ambiguity of this half telephone, half tablet device. “Phone? Tablet? Best of both”, claims the ad. Since the Galaxy Note II was launched, every other mobile device manufacturer has been investing in this area. Their attention has focused on size and screen resolution as the two most important aspects. These will be the factors which determine the levels of sales growth in the coming months. According to a recent study by Barclays, sales of phablets with screen size of five inches and over should reach 350 million in 2016.

More media, more apps

According to an analysis from global retail market studies firm NPD, sales of traditional-size tablet PCs have plummeted recently, falling from $7.4 million in December to a mere $1.3 million in January. It also appears that shifting over to smaller tablets/larger smartphones substantially changes the way consumers use their device: users of larger screen equipment generally make use of a far wider range of media. According to a recent study by Kantar’s Worldpanel ComTech (“the largest continuous consumer research mobile phone panel of its kind in the world”), only 19% of people who possess a smartphone with screen size less than three inches use it to watch videos, while 65% of those using a device with a screen size of over five inches do so. In addition, a larger screen creates a more compelling experience, thus motivating consumers to use their devices more and consequently to buy more applications.

Good news or bad for manufacturers?

Burgeoning phablet sales could be good news for manufacturers. However some are rather less enthusiastic about the trend, pointing out that while these days plenty of consumers are prepared to buy two devices – smartphone plus tablet – if phablets take the place of both they’ll end up making only one purchase. Moreover these hybrids face a number of technical issues. When it comes to ergonomics, for instance, many popular apps are not designed for a phablet format. This is especially true for devices based on the Android operating system, which vary considerably in their technical features. Another drawback is battery life: phablets are still a long way from providing a satisfactory degree of power autonomy. So while most commentators are betting on a continuing rise in phablet sales, there are still several aspects of these devices that require improvement.