As names go, “phablet” is butt ugly. It represents the clumsy marriage of a tablet and a smartphone, or perhaps just a halfway point between the two. Regardless, the biggest thing the phablet has going for it, so far as the companies who make them are concerned, is the fact that Apple isn’t making one. At least not yet.
But that doesn’t mean swollen smartphones haven’t been successful. I gather they are doing quite well in Asia. In South Korea, Samsung’s home country, the iPhone gets a 14% share among smartphones, and phablets are quite the popular gadget. They are clearly meant to serve as PC alternatives for many, offering traditional smartphone features, plus a slightly larger form factor that affords some more space to do things.
So far at least, Apple has resisted the call to make a larger iPhone. The theory goes that larger smartphones are less convenient to use with one hand, and the 4-inch iPhone 5 series is already a stretch for those with smaller digits. The 5-inch Samsung Galaxy S4 that I used for several months was nearly impossible for me to use with one hand, and I have long, thin fingers, which they tell me are ideally suited for piano playing, although the only instrument I learned to any degree was a guitar.
Certainly, popping a phablet in your pocket or purse may be difficult, so I suppose a holster-style case might be best suited to that form factor. I don’t present to prejudge how people use those things. But if there is a large demand for an overgrown smartphone, and big profits are to be made, it would seem silly for Apple to overlook the possibility of getting into the fray.
Remember, Apple isn’t always first to the party, but they do try to offer a better solution. So what sort of solution would Apple offer, other than a larger display?
Tim Cook’s excuse for Apple’s decision to stay clear of larger displays is all about alleged tradeoffs. There is picture quality, longevity, and battery life. My main exposure to large smartphones on an extended basis involves two members of the Samsung Galaxy family. Both used AMOLED displays that totally washed out in bright sunlight. Samsung clearly prefers to tout impressive specs rather than impressive performance and usability. That didn’t stop some tech reviewers from falling for this gimmick, although sales are said to be far less than originally expected.
Even assuming Apple decides to build an iPhone in the 4.5 to 5-inch range, and deliver a superior picture and otherwise resolve quality and battery life concerns, how will yet another form factor impact developers? While iOS 7 and its successors may allow for easier scaling of apps to fit different display sizes and resolutions, compromises will likely have to be made.
There’s also the question whether Apple would even consider an iPad micro, a six-inch or smaller version. Would that be a viable answer to the phablet concept? Not if it comes without a phone, so therefore wouldn’t an iPhone Jumbo or iPhone Maxi be the better alternative? What’s in a name anyway?
It’s a sure thing that Apple is trying to boost sales in Asia, and if the customers feel a 4-inch iPhone is too small for their needs, that would be a compelling reason to consider larger alternatives.
But what about Apple’s timetable for such a gadget? While I suppose there could be some unexpected surprises at the now-confirmed October 22nd iPad media event, an Apple phablet seems very unlikely. So when would Apple release such a device? Would it wait until September 2014, or would Apple consider a spring event to increase the frequency of product rollouts?
Some suggest that the rumored iPhone 6 would be the model to support a larger display size. But that doesn’t mean there is no room for even more iPad variants. Just the other day, I wrote about the published report suggesting that a 13-inch version, a possible iPad/Mac convergence device, was being considered.
But when it comes to next week’s product introductions, it’s rare for Apple to introduce something that isn’t mentioned by the rumor sites. One reason September’s iPhone rollout was perceived as a disappointment is that there were no significant surprises. Offering the iWork apps free to new iPhone purchasers, was minor in the scheme of things.
So far, most expect Apple to introduce a fifth generation iPad with a smaller form factor, and an iPad mini with Retina display. If that occurs, it is quite possible that the original iPad mini will remain in the lineup at a lower price, for those who feel $329 is just too much in comparison with the $200 or so 7-inch tablets the competitors are offering.
It is also claimed that OS X Mavericks and perhaps new MacBook Pros will make their debut, though the announcement would likely be relatively brief. The Mac Pro? The latest scuttlebutt suggests mid-November, but that would seem a bit late unless Apple is still waiting for Intel to deliver the parts they need in sufficient quantities. Or perhaps Apple will announce, during the iPad event, that the Mac Pro is available for preordering, with delivery some time in November. That would make sense.
Oh, and by the way, an Apple phablet would not be something I’d be inclined to want to purchase. But I was never the target customer for such a gadget.