The Phablet Report: You Want Apple to Make That?

January 16th, 2014

The other day, a neighbor dropped over and asked me to help him figure out why my texts to his Samsung handset kept being rejected. Receiving his messages presented no problems whatever, so it was curious why it didn’t work in the reverse direction.

The neighbor used Sprint, I used AT&T. A phone call to AT&T support brought the response that Sprint was rejecting those messages for some unknown reason. But my friend said he hadn’t made any changes on his handset, a recent Samsung Galaxy Note with a humongous screen that he pried, with difficulty, from his back pocket.

On the surface, a Note, sporting screen sizes ranging from 5.3 to 5.7 inches, is positively huge compared to a regular smartphone, even the Galaxy S4, which I regarded as pretty large. Aside from the stylus alternative, however, it operates pretty much the same as its smaller brethren, and made my iPhone 5s, with the 4-inch display, seem positively puny by comparison.

I casually checked the neighbor’s phablet to see if any setting would bar my messages. He remarked that he only bought the new handset a couple of weeks earlier; he was having similar problems with his older gadget, a normal-sized Samsung smartphone of undefined Galaxy “S” vintage.

In the end, perhaps AT&T was correct. For some reason Sprint was blocking my texts, and it would be up to the neighbor to sort things out.

But that brief encounter with a genuine phablet made me more convinced it wasn’t for me. Apple’s main argument against the larger form factor is the inability to do things with one hand, and that was certainly true with that Galaxy Note. I made no effort to stuff the thing into my pocket, but I can tell you that the iPhone fits nicely, thank you. It would be near-impossible to put a phablet in the same space. If I ever thought of buying one of those things, I’d get some sort of belt clip, or maybe consider moonlighting as a clown.

Of course that’s just me. Tech and financial analysts have been pushing for Apple to build a phablet for quite some time now. They claim Apple is putting loads of sales on the table, though phablets, last I heard, had 20% of the market, and those sales were heavily concentrated in Asia, where the form factor seems to be more popular.

Regardless, Apple has made a huge deal about usability, and one-handed operation is significant. Tim Cook has said that Apple isn’t dismissing a larger iPhone, but claims there are tradeoffs in display quality, longevity, battery life and other factors. Of course, I haven’t heard about a raft of failures involving Samsung smartphones or phablets, so I wonder if that’s just spin. But since Cook didn’t dismiss the possibility of a larger iPhone, no doubt one will be forthcoming before long.

Indeed, this year’s spate of rumors suggests that the iPhone 6 is destined to be larger, though surely not as large as some of Apple’s critics would like. But it also seems that they aren’t considering the usability of the product, only the fact that other companies have big smartphones, phablets, or whatever, and thus Apple must build one too in order to remain competitive.

Now I have little doubt that larger iPhone form factors have been tested, and it may very well be true that one or more larger-sized models will be offered. But I wonder how many potential iPhone customers are put off by the small size. If the huge handsets are getting 20% of the market, it means that 80% of the sales involve products with smaller displays, so where’s the advantage?

Now I spent seven months using two flavors of the Samsung Galaxy series. The current model, the Galaxy S4, has a 5-inch screen, and it was a bit of a chore to get one into my Levis and pry it out again whenever I got a phone call. I considered a holster case or something similar, but I haven’t had one for several years. Usually I stuff my smartphone into my pocket when going out. When I’m taking a long trip in the family car, I place it in one cup holders if it’s not filled with a beverage. But I do not make a habit of looking at the screen when I’m driving, although I realize some of you do.

In any case, that some people buy phablets doesn’t mean Apple must enter that arena, although I can see a reason for a somewhat larger iPhone. Then again, if sales of the iPhone 5s were as good as some expected for the holiday quarter, maybe Apple should be cautious about making it very much larger. Of course, I suppose there are tricks to fit a somewhat larger screen into a case that’s not much bigger. Reduce the screen bezel, for example, although you won’t have much space  right and left. But the critics won’t be satisfied until there’s a 5.5-inch iPhone.

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2 Responses to “The Phablet Report: You Want Apple to Make That?”

  1. Shock Me says:

    I think the phablets aren’t really competitors to the phone they are competitors to the tablet. If one regularly carries a purse or wears a jacket, the size isn’t much of an issue. The key appeal of phablets is that they can serve as both a phone and a tablet while not being particularly optimized for either task.

    For me the phablet is not too large. The phablet is far too small. As soon as I had my first iPhone the next thing I wanted was a much larger version with more elements of the app on screen at once for the sake of larger and easier more easily targeted interface elements, as well as increased speed and efficiency at the expense of some portability.

    Having worked with the iPad since 2010, My next hope is that an even larger more desk and table bound version to supplant my need for a new MacBookPro or iMac. Such a device, when propped up on a desk like a traditional monitor, would move the touch surface to the surface of the desk like an enormous mousepad with a full-sized software keyboard woth numeric keypad. In a pinch, the device can be transported and use as a touch screen. The size of such a device should be between 13″ and 27″ to enable full ten-fingered multi-touch interaction.

    It would resemble something the size of the old 17″ MacBookPro but with a an additonal battery/stand/port multiplier/forward-facing stereo speakers attached to the supplementary desktop interaction surface in place of the keyboard.

    The screen with battery, the stand with battery, and the touch surface with solar cells and battery could all be separated like a desktop computer or assembled to look like a laptop or the individual components could be used independently. For example, a 13″ iPad/Hybrid could be used by it self and the other pieces could be attached to a separate monitor or an even larger second iPad.

    I think multi-touch and gesture interfaces still have much innovation to bring to the desktop. But that’s just me.

  2. Joe S says:

    I notice that the Phablets are reported to be very popular in China. The ideograms used there are more compact that the phonetic alphabets used in the west. I wonder if that would account for some of the differences in user preferences. Since China and Japan are so important to Apple, is might make sense to ADD a larger phone. I often am eating a sandwich with one hand and using my iPhone with the other.

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