Phablets Are Here to Stay

by Brad Moon | August 29, 2013 9:08 am

The term “phablet” has been legitimized after being added to the Oxford Online Dictionary. Haters are undoubtedly cringing, as the term has been subject to considerable derision.

Heck, even the tech press has been holding its nose about the word (and the product), and they’re the same people who coined the term back around 2008[1]. Well, tough luck on both fronts. The smartphone/tablet hybrids appear to be here to stay and the word is now ensconced in an honest-to-goodness dictionary.

The official phablet definition, according to Oxford[2] is: “A smartphone having a screen which is intermediate in size between that of a typical smartphone and a tablet computer.”

The screen size part of that definition is already out of date, with the latest generation of phablets pushing into 7-inch tablet territory. Samsung’s (SSNLF[3]) Galaxy Mega has a 6.3-inch display and the Asus FonePad has a 7-inch display. Meanwhile, the upcoming Galaxy Note III (Samsung’s update to the Galaxy Note that arguably kicked off this whole phablet thing) is being described as “conservative”[4] because it appears likely to get only a 5.7-inch display.

But, despite the size similarities, a phablet and a 7-inch tablet are two very different beasts.

The phablet is first and foremost a smartphone, one built specifically to address the needs of the large-fingered and those who despise lugging around multiple gadgets. They’re sold through wireless carriers, often on contract. Phablets reflect their smartphone heritage through a tendancy to employ fast processors and high density displays.

They typically offer premium build quality with more than a passing nod to design — after all, if the phablet is your one device, the mobile gadget you carry, you don’t want it to be flimsy. And while nothing can be done to prevent it from looking silly glued to your ear, at least it doesn’t have to be ugly.

A 7-inch tablet, on the other hand, might have designs on replacing your laptop, but not your smartphone. You’ll find them at every big box retailer, but seldom at the wireless shops. Most don’t offer anything more than Wi-Fi connectivity, and the category developed as a lower-cost alternative to full-sized tablets.

That means the device will have last year’s processor, cheaper displays, lower cost components and utilitarian styling. While a phablet buyer is looking for a bigger version of a $650 smartphone that also replaces a tablet, the typical 7-inch tablet buyer is trying to save money compared to a $500 full-sized device.

But wait, won’t consumers make their own phablet out of a cheaper 7-inch tablet? Sure, it can be done, but few people bother. After all, Apple offers an iPod Touch with a microphone and Retina display for $400 less than its base iPhone 5. Use Skype among Wi-Fi hotspots and the iPod Touch could be your smartphone. But almost no one does that because it’s a workaround and it looks weird. Frankly, they’d rather spend the money on the iPhone because it’s optimized for smartphone functionality.

Pretty much everyone made fun of Samsung when it released the 5.3-inch Galaxy Note in 2011 … until it sold a million of them in two months and went on to move 10 million. There were more than 25 million phablets sold in 2012, the numbers are expected to top 60 million this year[5], and estimates for 2015 range from 146 million to 230 million.

Still need convinced this phablet thing isn’t a fluke? Nokia (NOK[6]) looks ready to release one in September[7]. Sony (SNE[8]) just launched the 6.4-inch Xperia Z Ultra[9]. Even BlackBerry (BBRY[10]) is reportedly prepping it’s first phablet[11], although in true BlackBerry fashion it looks as though the device’s 5-inch display would put it more in line with last year’s smartphones than this year’s phablets, but whatever.

The point is, phablets (the devices) are here to stay, phablet (the word) is here to stay, and while you can point fingers at manufacturers for making the things and the tech press for the awful term, it’s the consumers buying the things who are keeping both alive.

As of this writing, Brad Moon did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.

  1. coined the term back around 2008:
  2. official phablet definition, according to Oxford:
  3. SSNLF:
  4. described as “conservative”:
  5. are expected to top 60 million this year:
  6. NOK:
  7. ready to release one in September:
  8. SNE:
  9. Xperia Z Ultra:
  10. BBRY:
  11. reportedly prepping it’s first phablet:

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