Did Phablets Finally Phlop

Samsung kicked off the entire phablet market with the original Samsung Note series. When they did, people everywhere claimed that there was no market for a phone of that size. There was a huge market though, with the original Galaxy Note selling more than 10mln units in one year. However, it seems like there may be a fine line between phablet and tablet, and some of the world’s top manufacturers are getting closer and closet to crossing that line (some think they already crossed it). The other side of that line is what we like to call the dead zone of mobiles.

The original Samsung Galaxy Note was 5.3 inches in size (135mm). Following the debut and surprise success of the device, Samsung released several other Note mobiles as well, with the largest every being 5.7 inches (145mm). Here are all of the devices, so that you can get a better idea of how their development and size considerations have grown and shrunk over the last four years:

  • 2011 – Samsung Galaxy Note – 5.3 inches (135mm)
  • 2012 – Samsung Galaxy Note II – 5.5 inches (140mm)
  • 2013 – Samsung Galaxy Note 3 – 5.7 inches (145mm)
  • 2014 – Samsung Galaxy Note 3 Neo – 5.5 inches (140mm)
  • 2014 – Samsung Galaxy Note 4 – 5.7 inches (145mm)
  • 2014 – Samsung Galaxy Note 4 Edge – 5.6 inches (143mm)

Looking over that range of products, and excluding Tablet models, like the Samsung Galaxy Note 8 and 10, we can see a variance in size of just 10mm, over a period of about three years since the original device launched. While some might argue that the number of product releases in 2014 could have cannibalised a bit of their own market, that’s not the point of this article. What is the point of this piece is that other manufacturers seem to have crossed a line into no man’s land in terms of size, where people don’t want to be, no matter how nice the display is on their mobile.

Well, perhaps people who have normal sized hands anyway. Monster footballers like Kristof Van Hout don’t count. The rest of us aren’t anywhere near that tall. We also don’t have pockets big enough to fit phablets into, which he can easily do (rumours say that he carries three phablets, but we were unable to confirm those as fact, the Daily being what it is and all).

The fuss, however, is that other device manufacturers, in an attempt to get a leg up on Samsung, have done what the Yanks tend to do best, which is go bigger. Sadly, manufacturers haven’t yet learned that bigger is absolutely not always better, although technically those manufactures are headquartered in the States. Anyway, let’s take a look at the basic sales numbers of the iPhone 6 and the iPhone 6 Plus before we head back into Android territory, and we’ll give you a little insight into the ‘why’ behind device sizes, and let you see the ‘where’ of device footprints getting a bit crazy. Here are the specs for the iPhone series:

  • 2011 – iPhone 4S – 4.5 inches (115mm)
  • 2012 – iPhone 5 – 4.9 inches (124mm)
  • 2013 – iPhone 5S – 4.9 inches (124mm)
  • 2014 – iPhone 6 – 5.4 inches (138mm)
  • 2014 – iPhone 6 Plus – 6.2 inches (158mm)

Here, you can see a rather massive departure from convention, in that the iPhone 6 Plus is 40mm larger than the iPhone 4 series, making it more than 37% larger. That’s a huge jump in size, and while many people claim they love their new iPhone 6 Plus models, the fact is that early sales figures of the 6 Plus were inaccurate, with giants like Bloomberg reporting that the monster was outselling the smaller iPhone 6 model.

Since then, newer and more accurate reports are coming in listing the iPhone 6 as outselling its big brother by a ratio of either 2:1 or 3:1, depending on who you ask.

Now, back to our regularly scheduled Android programming, where we discuss the Google Nexus, and what’s happened there. Since Google is not a device manufacturer, each year they have partnered with someone new to make their Nexus line of handsets. It started out with HTC, then Samsung, followed by LG, and most recently, Motorola. Those devices and sizes are listed below:

  • 2010 – Google Nexus One (HTC) – 4.7 inches (119mm)
  • 2010 – Google Nexus S (Samsung) – 4.9 inches (124mm)
  • 2011 – Google Galaxy Nexus (Samsung) – 5.3 inches (135mm)
  • 2012 – Google Nexus 4 (LG) – 5.3 inches (134mm)
  • 2013 – Google Nexus 5 (LG) – 5.4 inches (138mm)
  • 2014 – Google Nexus 6 (Motorola) – 6.3 inches (159mm)

As you can see above, the same trend is kicking off with Google, and their handset has also reached enormous proportions. While that giant size might be great for some users, more and more people are deciding that it isn’t great for them, as evidenced by not only the iPhone sales, but also a slew of user comments on the Google Nexus 6 size just being too large. Quite a few people have said that they prefer the Moto X, as it’s more or less the same device anyway – just not the size of a plate.

So what’s happened? Well… both Google and Apple have entered into that dead zone, where their phablet phones are realistically just too large for anything approaching normal use. They fit niche uses, and are great if you’re carrying a handbag around, or a man purse. Outside of that, they are simply too big. Take the BlackBerry Passport, as an example. It’s just 4.5 inches (115mm) in height. While it is a bit wider, it’s still usable. That’s because it’s not too long. See, jacket and pants pockets are only so long. Expanding a phone to meet a reasonable width and height requirement isn’t as bad as stretching the phone out of your pocket just so you can claim it’s ‘the biggest’.

Obviously people can fit these longer phones in their pockets, but there is a usability divide. The more numbers and figures roll out, the more we’re seeing a trend towards less lengthy devices. That’s not to say that there isn’t a place for the long ones, but rather that the place for them isn’t as available or easily found as device manufactures seem to think.

The line up for next year will be interesting, and likely depend on what happens with Apple and Google in the coming months, as the ‘new’ of their massive flagship devices wears off, and people wonder whether it might just be easier to hold a tablet up to their heads instead a phablet that’s almost the same size as a mini tablet.

Do note that we took the tiniest of liberties with our size information, rounding up a bit here and there where numbers like 4.47 inches or 138.7mm had been listed. That said; if you can spot 0.1mm difference in a mobile, or anything else for that matter, let us know in the comments section. We’d love to interview you.

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