The domino effect: How phablets inadvertently help tablets replace notebooks

January 31, 2013

It’s true to say that phablets have become big news over the last year. Having launched the original 5-inch Note back in 2011, Samsung released its larger successor, the Galaxy II, and similar models came from Lenovo, Huawei and others.

All of this led to some pretty impressive figures being bandied around by market researchers. ABI Research said that phablets would grow to 208 million units by 2015, while IHS iSuppli later offered a lower projection of 60.4 million units in 2013 and 140 million by 2016.

The phablet craze reached something of a crescendo at the International CES earlier this month. Some journalists and analysts started questioning if the phablet wasn’t just a device squeezed between the smartphone and tablet, but in fact something which had the power to replace both.

2013 will be 'year of the phablet'

"We expect 2013 to be the year of the phablet," said Strategy Analytics’ Neil Mawston to Business Insider. The article was aptly headlined ‘Forget the smartphone, forget the tablet, the phablet is the gadget of 2013’.

For all the hype however, the bigger question now is on what the phablet is; is it a smartphone, a tablet or something which aims to do a bit of both?

My take is that the phablet doesn’t come anywhere near replacing the tablet, and others appear to agree.

"Phablets are still too small to fully replace the functionality of tablets for many consumers, and a sizable proportion of phablet owners will still own a tablet," said Mykola Golovko, consumer electronics analyst at Euromonitor, recently.

However, whilst many would argue (myself included; my mother considered replacing her Galaxy SII smartphone with the Galaxy Note II) that a phablet could become your next phone, others have disagreed on the subject of size.

I am sure that this is the case with some people, but it’s interesting to note how trends are changing.

For less than 18 months ago, Dell’s ill-fated Streak 5 tablet was discontinued in a world of 3-inch smartphones from RIM and others. Today, we debate if Samsung’s bigger 5.5-inch Galaxy Note competes in the smartphone category being led by the 4-inch iPhone 5. Indeed, Apple is even rumored to be contemplating a 4.8-inch screen for the next iPhone.

The truth is that the consumer electronics industry is now less rigid in defining screen sizes by device. We’re seeing 5 and 6-inch "smartphones", 7 to 13-inch tablets and even 20+ inch public displays being marketed as tablets (Really? Who are they kidding?).

Phablets could be good news for Microsoft and the Surface

Whether you agree if phablets replace your phone, tablet or neither, there is another important question to be had on how phablets change your computing habits.

Creative Strategies president Tim Bajarin touched on this in passing in a recent blog post for Techpinions.

“What’s interesting to me is that when I actually held Huawei’s 6.1 inch smartphone in my hand at the Huawei booth at CES, I could actually see myself using it, but not as Huawei might expect.

“To me, this was a small tablet that just happened to have a cell phone radio in it. I would never hold this up to my ear as a phone and if I had one, I would only use it with a Bluetooth headset."

Views like these could well get people thinking about how they use tablets, especially when it comes to content creation.

Perhaps people will opt for a phablet, iPad mini or another sub 8-inch device for doing what tablets do best at the moment, which is emailing, light browsing, social networking and gaming.

People looking to create content, do some number-crunching and more on a tablet will demand a bigger screen, extra processing power and may even ask for a touchscreen.

That arguably sees it become a straight shoot-out between tablets and the heavy, expensive and less mobile notebooks that are said to have "overserved" the market. If anything, perhaps a desire for something that does both will see consumers gravitate to hybrid tablets like the Surface Pro and HP’s Envy x2. Microsoft will be hoping so.

Market researchers are already seeing the decline of the notebook. DisplaySearch expects tablet shipments to exceed notebook shipments for the first time this year, while Canalys has forecast tablets to account for over half of PC shipments by 2016. UBS analyst Brent Thill also believes that iPads will replace notebooks in enterprise this year.

Analysts, like journalists, don't always get it right when it comes to predicting the future. But if they do this time round, you can thank the rise of the phablet for shifting perceptions on screen size, and for pushing your tablet into becoming your main mobile PC.


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