Phablets: Blurring the lines between smartphones and tablets

The concept of a phablet is a hybrid of a phone and a tablet: large enough for good data use, measuring somewhere between five and seven inches, but still having the call functionality of a mobile phone. The Galaxy Note slogan highlights this perfectly: "Phone? Tablet? Best of both."

ZTE and LG have both launched phablets this year, but they are playing catch-up with market leader Samsung’s Galaxy range. The 5.5in Galaxy Note II sold an impressive 5m units worldwide in its first two months of release.

Thanks to Samsung’s fast evolving technologies, it may be a while before competitors get a bigger share of the phablet market. Samsung is soon expected to introduce a thinner, unbreakable AMOLED screen, which will leave room for bigger batteries in their devices, putting them in good stead to remain dominant of the market, at least in terms of volume.

But as tablets are getting smaller, it becomes hard to separate tablets from phablets. The new eight inch Galaxy Note 8 is being marketed as a hybrid of the S3 phone and the Note 10.1 tablet. Samsung is covering every square inch of the market with the Note 8, essentially a big brother to the Note II, without the ability to make calls.

Apple was met with a negative reception in April 2010 at the launch of the iPad. It was derided as "just a big iPod touch", leaving Steve Jobs feeling "annoyed and depressed" according to his biographer. Yet in the space of three months the first iPad model went on to reach 3m sales, which is impressive considering it was the first of its kind in a category of unproven technology.

The iPad Mini joined Apple’s ranks in late 2012 and if rumours are to be believed, the iPad 5 and iPad mini 2 will be released later this year. But Apple is yet to release a phablet, as its iPhone 5 measured in at 4.87in.

Ross Rubin, principal analyst at Reticle Research, said: "Companies can continue to push the boundaries. But at some point with today’s display technology, there’s going to be a point of diminishing return in terms of the size of the device and there continues to be a challenge to manage ergonomics. That’s not to say we won’t see more phones in the upper five- or six-inch range, but clearly at some point, you’re no longer designing for one-handed operation."

In terms of day-to-day use, phablets can prove to be frustrating. The phablets at the larger end of the spectrum look ridiculous when speaking on a call. It seems easier to leave it on a table and lower your head down to speak. Also, their size does not make them pocket-friendly, proving a conundrum for men. Perhaps the rise in sale of phablets will prompt a rise in sale of manbags?

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