Phablets not big threat to smartphones, tablets yet

Phablets not big threat to smartphones, tablets yet

Summary: Mobile devices with screen size in between smartphones and tablets cater to a niche user group, though they may put pressure on smaller sized tablets.


While phablets cater to a niche group of consumers looking for a more immersive user experience on a mobile device small enough to fit in their palm, they are for now still of little threat to smartphones or tablets.

There is currently a trend among vendors in developing phablets, or a smart mobile device with a screen size of more than 5 inches, observed Lilian Tay, principal analyst at Gartner. However, the phablet is not going to overtake either smartphones or tablets, but will continue to coexist and serve a specific need, Tay noted.

Her comments come after the launch of phablets by vendors at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas last week. Some newly launched phablets include the 6.1 inch screen Ascend Mate device by Huawei, ZTE's 5-inch Grand S, the 5-inch display Xperia Z by Sony and LG's 5-inch screen Optimus Vu.

The phablet fulfils the demands or needs of a particular group of users, who prefer screens bigger than the average smartphone but small enough to fit into one hand or a pocket, Tay explained. This group tends not to use voice as their main mode of communication as well, she added.

When they communicate, they do not speak over the phones, but will be sending messages through messaging apps, SMSes or doing a video conferencing call, she pointed out. They will also want to watch videos, surf the Internet, and this device gives them a better way of interacting or engaging using technology, she said.

For instance, Caritas Sia, a Samsung Note 2 user, told ZDNet Asia she is constantly on the Internet and always wants to stay in touch through texting. "A bigger screen gives my eyes more 'relaxation' and a more immersive experience as I use the Internet on my phone," she said.

huawei's ascend mate
Huawei's 6.1 inch Ascend Mate, launched at Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last week (Source: Lori Grunin/CNET)


Smaller tablets under more pressure
However, the phablet is still an "emerging product", with Samsung managing to popularize the form factor with its Note and Note 2 last year, and other vendors taking some time to develop competing products, Melissa Chau, research manager at IDC's client devices team, pointed out.

The phablet is also a differentiation strategy for Samsung to stand out from its competitors because it has become difficult in the smartphone arena to innovate, Chau explained. Other vendors are following suit as they have not thought of "better ideas", she added.

Mykola Golovko, consumer electronics analyst at Euromonitor, also pointed out the phablet was "essentially a smartphone". It is not a discrete product category, but an extension of smartphones, with their difference from smartphones being their screens, he said.

"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," Golovko said.

Chau also added while the phablet is essentially a smartphone, it does pose a threat to tablets with smaller screen sizes such as the 7 inch iPad Mini. Phablets have integrated all the smartphone and tablet capabilities into a single device with a "just right" screen, so it may affect the value of small screen tablets, Chau explained.

Chau also noted industries that currently make use of the tablet such as logistics and retail, would be a natural adopters of phablets. With Samsung introducing a pen along with its phablet, industries that require signatures or have many documents to sign such as insurance and sales, would also find the phablet useful, she added.

Another Samsung Note 2 user Michael Chan, for instance, noted he would choose his current smartphone over the iPad mini. "I prefer something that fits in my hand or it would be a hassle bringing it around," he said.

Samsung Note 2, the company's second phablet, was launched in October 2012 (Source: Samsung)

Not an opportunity for ailing vendors
Regardless of whether the phablet threatens other categories or develops as a category of its own, it would not be wise for ailing vendors to jump in this space, Tay remarked. Many vendors are already jumping into the phablet market, and it will be "bloody" especially because it is already headed by market leader Samsung, she explained.

Golovko agreed, adding it would be difficult for an ailing consumer electronics firm to go head to head with Samsung which is able to produce high resolution, low power displays and processors very efficiently.

"The key differentiator for phablets is the screen, so companies that have extensive display manufacturing capabilities have the most successful product lines," Golovko said.

The market size is also not big enough for many vendors because its target consumers are "niche"--the group of consumers that enjoy bigger screens on mobile devices yet want it to be able to fit in their pocket, Tay added.

If a vendor decides to launch a phablet, they must make sure it is something different due to the potentially competitive market, not just in terms of screen size but also user experience, she advised.

Topics: Consumerization, Hardware, Smartphones, Tablets

Ellyne Phneah

About Ellyne Phneah

Elly grew up on the adrenaline of crime fiction and it spurred her interest in cybercrime, privacy and the terror on the dark side of IT. At ZDNet Asia, she has made it her mission to warn readers of upcoming security threats, while also covering other tech issues.

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • I don't think any of them are really a "threat" to each other.

    "Phablets not big threat to smartphones, tablets yet"

    I don't think any of them are a threat to each other. People get to choose what they like, and unlike what sensationalists would like you to believe, there is no "one true form factor that will kill everything."

    It's not there. It doesn't exist. Different people have different desires and different needs. There's no such thing as a one-size-fits-all solution, and I do wish the tech news would stop treating everything that way.
    • If phablets didn't exist

      I would be carting around a tablet very often.
      And I would have to also carry around a phone.
      Phablet definitely replaced 2 devices in my case and therefore cannibalised sales of 2 devices.
  • Phablets Are 100% Android

    While Apple and Microsoft devote herculean efforts (and budgets) to erecting rigid walls between "phone" and "tablet" product categories, the quicker-moving Android vendors spotted the gap and jumped in to fill it.
    • Nokia and Lenovo think differently.

      There will be 5" Windows 8 phones with apps that will operate on all Windows 8 devices.

      As for Apple. There is no way they will leave the 5" phone market unoccupied by one of their own devices. Jobs was wrong. Users do want this size phone. I get more questions about this Note than any other phone I've had and I've owned lots of them.
      • Re: There will be 5" Windows 8 phones

        Windows Phone doesn't support hi-res screens. Remember how HTC couldn't do a version of its Android-running 1080p DNA with Windows Phone?
      • Apple iNote?

        I don't think Apple will be making a phablet as they want every customer to buy an iphone, ipad, and macbook. An iNote will mean a large proportion will replace their iphone and ipad with just 1 device. Not only will it cannibalise device sales, it will also mean users no longer pay twice for seperate versions of the same app and Apple misses out on the appstore revenue associated.
        The won't even let you use your Songs on your iphone as a ringtone because they want you to pay for another version. Fat chance they will entertain the idea of converging devices.
  • Note II

    I just got a Note II over the weekend. I passed down my S III to my wife. I love the size of it. I have to carry my work blackberry 24/7, so I use the Note II as primarily a mini-tablet and not a phone. My wife carries a Kindle fire in her purse. I think we are at a point where people want and expect to be able to access the internet anytime, anywhere, and a 5 to 7 inch screen is the ideal blend of portability and usability.
  • No 7" iPad

    There is no such thing as a 7" iPad. The iPad Mini is an 8" (7.9"). Apple uses 7" to claim it's part of the same "class" as the other 7" tablets.
  • TabletPhone

    I have posted several times my preference for the use of TabletPhone for this category of device. I made what I thought was a good joke that makes fun of the phrase Phablet - Phablet it to TabletPhone what Phart is to SmartPhone. Phablet and Phart, they are both silly words. But is seems that the trade press has glommed on to this word and it's here to stay. The good news is that their attitude towards the TabletPhone device category seems to be less dismissive and somewhat accepting. With Samsung selling over 10 million Note TabletPhones, there is obviously someone interested in using these devices. I am less concerned with are TabletPhones a threat to SmartPhones than are they a viable category on their own, because I hope that more TabletPhone choices become available. I would prefer a Windows Phone or iOS TabletPhone to an Android.
  • better name than ptablet


    Mobile entertainment platform, perhaps?

    I got a note 2 and I'm sold on the concept, don't need a tablet, it's more difficult to carry round the house, my phone gives me freedom to move around while surfing
    richard in norway
  • My Note 2 replaced my Tab 7 Plus and my S3

    I still use the 7" Tab but only at home. I used to tether it to my Epic and then my S3, but the Note is adequate as a browser and even better as an e-reader. I get tired holding a Kindle or my Tab for hours on end and the Note is perfect for that. My Tab will be replaced by a Surface Pro because my Linux netbook died and it has the brickbug chip. I am no longer a likely tablet buyer on account of the Note 2.

    The world "phablet", however, makes me cringe. I think "fab-let", and that's reminiscent of a 1980's Saturday Night Live caricature of a pissy queen. Geeky is ok with me. Freaky, in an out of fashion and annoying way, is not.

    Samsung would be well advised to display some cultural competence and ditch the lame amd corny term, "phablet".
  • It's the area that matters, not the diagonal

    Is it "more than 5 inches," as you write in paragaraph 2?
    Or "5 inches" as suggested by your three examples in paragraph 3?
    I propose a compromise: "larger than 130mm" (5.1 inches).
    In fact, since screens come in different aspect ratios--4:3 (iPad Mini), 3:2 (iPhone 4s), 16:10 (Note 1), and 16:9 (nearly everything else)--diagonal measurements can be misleading. A more objective measure is area. Take the LG Optimus Vu. On paper, it has a 5-inch screen. But thanks to its squarish aspect ratio (4:3), it has as much area as a 5.3-inch display whose aspect ratio is 16:9:
    4.6 x 2.6 (117x66), 12.0 sq in. (5.3 inches, 16:9)
    4.0 x 3.0 (102x76), 12.0 sq in. (5.0 inches, 4:3)
    • For me, width is the key dimension.

      If device doesn't fit in my shirt pocket, it gets left at home. That means that the maximum width is about 3.5 inches. The lenght should be less than 6 inches to keep it from being top heavy and falling out when I bend over. Better less than 5 inches long to keep from advertizing it to pick pockets. If we need a new name, I suggest "pocket tablet", or maybe "poc-tab" for short.
  • Phablet is such an ugly word.

    The IT industry is famous for its nasty invented words, such as 'infotainment' and 'webinar'. They used to call the Laptop a 'Lap-held', although how your lap held it, I haven't a clue. Then there were the uses of shortened words, to make it sound cute, like 'Lappy', 'Proggy' and 'Mobo'. Now we have to contend with the 'Phablet', which makes me cringe every time I hear it.
  • ridiculous...

    Smartphones, 'phablets', and tablets are the SAME d**n thing! What can you do with one that you can't do with the others? Screen size is the only difference, which iswhy I have always saw tablets as a dumb waste of money for someone who already owns a smartphone.
    • Size matters. A small smartphone doesn't have adequate area.

      If you have an S3 or a Note2, I can understand you not feeling the need for a tablet. An Epic, S2 or an iPhone 4 are just a bit too small to do the work I do on this Note.

      The Tab, at 7" has been largely displaced, but a 10" tablet, iPad, or Kindle Fire 8.9 display graphs, spreadsheets, and webpages in a way that my Note2 cannot even approach. I will probably go with a Surface Pro to fill that spot, but it's not a device I would call a "tablet".

      Just wait. It gets worse for the Surface. Bad ideas follow:


      ... could get TOSsed if I go on.
  • The Niche User ... Me

    "However, the phablet is not going to overtake either smartphones or tablets, but will continue to coexist and serve a specific need, Tay noted." I can see myself, as a photographer, possibly being the sort of person who would use such a device.

    Ages ago, long before the first smart phone appeared, I KNEW I wanted a portable unit I could carry with me to share images with prospective clients that was smaller and lighter than my laptop. Now with so many options, the question is "what combination of devices will best suite how I work?"

    I won't let go of the laptop, because, as a writer and editor, I need the power of a keyboard while I have no need for a desktop unit. So, on the high end, the laptop becomes my "big device". I use my mobile a lot, so I won't be without some kind of "phone" device. Ideally, if I could have only 2 devices, I'd be delighted. A phablet that allowed me to share images on a screen large enough to see well while doubling as my mobile phone could work. I certainly don't want a phone AND a tablet AND a laptop, and I'm certainly NOT interested in lugging my laptop around to every situation in which I MIGHT want to share images.
  • Just a Note

    The predominant use of my Note2 is as an ultra portable tablet, the phone function has a very small percentage of use (as I suspect most smart phones are employed).

    To reflect this may be the generic term Mopad rather than would be more relavent?
  • Stupid Discussion

    The problem is that this is all one market.

    Are small pick-up trucks a threat to full-size pick up trucks and cars?

    Yes, I think this question makes about as much sense as the one posited in this post. They are all part of the same market, mobile devices. The only difference is can they make calls. One thing to looks at is how much we use our phones for calling versus other things. Also, consider how many smartphone carriers are women, who commonly carry a purse, rather than trying to stuff a phone into a pocket.

    Stupid discussion.
    • Re: Are small pick-up trucks a threat to full-size pick up trucks and cars?

      They were when they first came out, yes.