Why it’s time for Apple to get in on the phablet action

by Ben Bajarin

February 17 2013

Ben Bajarin is Director of the Consumer Technology Practice at Creative Strategies, a strategy consulting firm in Silicon Valley.


Apple could leverage Siri to make a pretty-compelling phablet.

After using the Samsung Galaxy Note II for a few weeks, I began to wonder if the 5” plus smartphones are the perfect devices for mobile professionals.  I think it would be hard to argue that the larger the screen the more productive we can be.  But what is the largest pocketable screen size?

I say pocketable because that is the essence of a smartphone. Since a smartphone is the more personal and most portable device we own, we need to be able to carry it around 24/7.

Calling LeBron James

The strongest argument against these size phones is the one-handed operational trade-off and it is a very strong point. If one handed operation is important to you then stay away from devices 4.5-inches and above unless you have Lebron James size hands.

But the key conclusion I made is that the trade-off of one-handed operation feels like less of a trade-off with the Note 2 than with any other 4.5-4.7” Android phone I have used. Any phone larger than 4.5” is going to require a trade-off of one-handed operation anyway so why not just go larger and get more value?

Many women I’ve talked to who use the Note 2 say they value its big screen. Since they have smaller hands, most phones were already hard to use with one hand anyway so they simply wanted the biggest screen possible and he Note 2 fills the bill.

This makes the point that if one-handed navigation is not that important to you, the value of the screen size experience of the Note 2 is significant. This is especially true of media and even of productivity use cases.  Email for example is larger and you can see more of your inbox.  

I review documents and presentations on my smartphone frequently and the larger form factor makes this extremely useful.

What really struck me is that the experience with the Galaxy Note 2 is more tablet like than phone like. It is also one that makes it very hard, for the first time, to actually compare an Android phone with the iPhone.  I also found that when I use the Note II, I use my tablet less.

Will Apple see an opportunity to innovate?

Using the Note II, and for that matter the iPad mini, has led me to think about those form factors as unique sizes to solve challenges for one-handed operation. 5-7” devices, whether phone or tablet, are still manageable to hold and do some operation with one hand.

Samsung included some software around the keyboard and keypad to make one-handed operation easy but the device is still to large for full ease of one-handed operation. I genuinely believe this form factor presents some unique opportunities for innovation where a company like Apple is always looking for opportunities.

What if Apple were to make one? How could they solve some of the challenges of one-hand operation?

One way could be by using voice, and in Apple’s case Siri. Our research has continually returned many of the primary use cases for Siri not just being search but also automation. Set a reminder, add a calendar event, post to Facebook, send a tweet, set an alarm, etc., are all examples of common automation tasks from heavy Siri users that can be done with one hand.

Another is sensors. As sensor technology evolves we will be able to embed these sensors into the bezel of the larger devices. With the Galaxy Note II it’s almost impossible for me to reach the back button with just one hand, which is a key function of Android and is needed throughout much of its UI.

A sensor solution could allow me to have a back button function by simply taping the side of the device.

Scrolling was feasible but not ideal on the Note II. This is also a use case I found I could do with the iPad Mini but not as much with the iPad. Sensors could be embeded into the sides of the device and allow a slide of the finger down the side to act as the scroll function.

There are many more opportunities for sensor control than I can get into here, but I believe this is an area for innovation and improvement. By Apple innovating to solve some one-handed operation problems for a larger iPhone, they can leverage those innovations for iPad as well.

In a market the size of smartphones, staying competitive will mean offering a range of devices. The smartphone market is mature enough that it has begun to segment. An iPhone designed to serve the market that wants a larger screen, which can add to more productive and more media rich experiences in a pocketable form factor, is a good move in my opinion. One that Apple could do right and again put them years ahead of the competition.

The upside of phablets

Phablets, are an extremely interesting form factor. The larger the screen, the more productive we can be.  For mobile professionals productivity and efficiency is key while not being chained to a desk.    

I am not suggesting that Phablets will take the place of tablets, but rather these two devices combined could continue to challenge the traditional PC for mobile professionals.

The market can and will support many solutions. I am becoming increasingly convinced that the Phablet has a role to play and may be uniquely valuable for mobile professionals looking to be as effective and efficient as possible while on the go.

Ben Bajarin is Director of the Consumer Technology Practice at Creative Strategies, a strategy consulting firm in Silicon Valley.
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Comments

 
  • White Lotus
    1 year 5 months ago

    Note 2 is a bit large, but I think this is where it's at. If it were just a teensy bit smaller it would be perfect. I see Note 2 as a small tablet cause you need 2 hands pretty much to use it (at least I do).

  • samirsshah
    1 year 6 months ago

    Apple has too much on her plate for 2013. Apple can get into phablet action in 2014 by introducing a 1080p 6" phablet. If Apple can manage to get into phablet action earlier they can do so by all means.

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