Phablets are not a phad
The biggest difference from smartphone usage compared to phablets is the size of the screen. Currently very little video is watched on smartphones, although it is growing rapidly: almost six hours per month in the US, versus 160 hours per month for traditional live and time‑shifted TV on a TV screen. Tablets, with their larger screens, have 40 percent more video consumption via apps than smartphones. As more phablets become part of the installed base, the number of hours of video watched on all smartphones devices is likely to climb. In spite of limited viewing hours, video already represents 40 percent of downstream primetime mobile data traffic in North America and 36 percent in Europe. Operators will need to consider the implications of growing phablet penetration on their networks, both at the radio access network level and the backhaul level.
Further, large screens are likely to be better for display advertising and in‑app purchase. As the Deloitte 2013 Prediction pointed out, large screen tablets generated $7 per device per year in displays ads, while smartphones (mainly under five inches in 2013) generated only $0.60 per device per year. A five‑inch phablet may only be a few cents more in annual display advertising revenues, but a screen of over six inches would likely be capable of generating more than an additional dollar in revenue.
Bigger screens on phablets don’t necessarily mean higher quality pictures: a lot depends on pixel size. Some phablets offer true 1080p (1920x1080) screens. Others, even of the same screen size, support 1280x720 images. As at the end of 2013, no phablet has a 2160p (Ultra HD) screen; but a few have cameras that shoot in Ultra HD, and since there are seven‑inch tablets with Ultra HD screens, some phablet manufacturers may offer this option in 2014.
As phablet screens move to higher resolution, the data required for video or gaming will increase sharply, with 2160p requiring 16 times as many bits as 720p, all other things being equal. Carriers’ data plans will need to reflect the fact that phablet users are likely to be amongst the heaviest smartphone data users.
A challenge for website and app designers will be how to best use the larger screen area that phablets offer, with the choices being more critical for devices over six inches. For video consumption, it’s not an issue: a bigger screen is almost always a better screen. But for email or web browsing, there is a fundamental design decision: do users want and need bigger fonts and larger objects, or do they want more things (at the same size) to be shown on the larger screen? For phablet buyers aged over 55, a preference for bigger fonts and larger virtual keyboards seems likely, while younger users may prefer having more information at their fingertips.
In a similar vein, device manufacturers should think about how best to use screen real estate, especially within the context of the operating system. Simply making the user interface (UI) components and features larger is unlikely to be enough to please increasingly sophisticated customers. Specific features that make the most of the screen size, such as UI components optimized for single‑handed usage, or custom input devices such as styluses, may help to create a more refined and appropriate user experience.
Some smartphones support multitasking, with more than one application running in the background. Larger screens introduce the possibility of having two apps open at the same time; this will put pressure on application processors, graphics capacity and even memory.