20151228_194520_HDRIf this year’s holiday season is any indication, it looks as though 2016 will be the year of the phablet. Both TechCrunch and 9 to 5 Mac have reports citing new figures from Yahoo-owned analytic firm Flurry Insights. In the week leading to Christmas, phablets represented 27% of new devices—up from 13% for the same period last year, and 4% for that period in 2013. Both full-sized and small tablets saw their share dwindle over the last couple of years, and represented only 9% each this year.

When you split it out by operating system, things look even more interesting. Apple only recently introduced its own line of phablets, as the first iPhones had a tiny 3.5” screen and for the longest time (while Steve Jobs was alive) it was felt iPhones wouldn’t ever go bigger than 4”. It was just the right size for one-handed use. Perhaps as a result, only 12% of iOS devices are phablets—while 50% of Android devices are.

The distribution of new device activations was also kind of lopsided. Apple was the clear winner, with 49.1% of new device activations over the Christmas holiday. In next place was Samsung, with 19.8%—and the next three, Nokia, LG, and Xiaomi, had only 2.0%, 1.7%, and 1.5% respectively.

I’m looking forward to receiving my own phablet. My kind and thoughtful brother, seeing the problems I was having with my aging 2013 first-gen Moto X, decided to get me a Nexus 6. I’m expecting it to arrive tomorrow or more likely the next day, though today I got my first accessories—a MoKo kickstand case and TruShield tempered glass screen protectors. Holding the case gave me my first real inkling of what it was going to be like to have a phone of that size. It kind of reminds me of one of those immense Texas Instruments graphing calculators I had in high school.

I think it’s going to be great for e-reading. (And David Rothman, who has the same model, knows it is.) My Nexus 7 tablet makes a good reader, but it’s not something I can easily carry in a pocket—at least not in the bulky case I use. My 7” Fire actually will fit nicely into my back pocket—but I want to be sure I don’t accidentally sit on it! This Nexus looks small enough for a pocket, but big enough to do some serious reading—or gaming, for that matter. I expect it should have better battery life than my Moto X, too, since it will have more room to fit a bigger one in the case.

The most interesting thing to me from those figures I cited earlier is that people seem to be moving toward phablets as they’re moving away from both smaller phones and non-phone tablets. It’s like they’re converging on a form factor that’s small enough to be portable but large enough to get at least some semi-productive use from. I know I would have felt silly hooking up a Bluetooth keyboard to my little Moto X—but for something like a Nexus 6, that’s just a little smaller than my Nexus 7, it doesn’t seem at all far-fetched.

While people are still buying tablets—especially bigger ones meant for real productivity uses—phones are far more ubiquitous, not to mention more easily useful for communication without needing a hotspot like the Karma Go. I kind of wish they’d come up with a name that sounds less silly than “phablet,” but I imagine people felt the same way about other portmanteau words like “brunch.”

I can’t wait to see how this will work. It just might be phabulous!


  1. Good luck with your move to a Nexus 6.

    I’ve toyed with going with a phablet at some time in the future. Trapped in Apple’s walled garden with a tight budget, that’d mean looking for a used iPhone 6S plus in a year or two.

    One plus to making that move is the simplicity that comes with having fewer gadgets to maintain. In my case, that phablet would be doing duty as a cell phone, tablet, and when Scrivener finally comes to iOS, my now ancient MacBook laptop.

    I discovered another plus with a combo phone/computer over the holidays when a Christmas Eve electrical storm blew out my cable modem. Wow! online support was great, but also told me I couldn’t get a replacement modem from them until Monday.

    That left my iPhone 5 as my only contact with what we now call “the world.” My two Macs and an iPad, I discovered, were far less useful without the Internet. Much of what I do requires synching between them and for some reason, even though they were mere yards apart, that requires an active Internet connection.

    Fortunately, on Saturday I hit it lucky. The prime shopping venue of all sophisticated shoppers, Goodwill, had a cable modem for $1.10 and Wow! tech support confirmed it would work with their system. With them working their magic on a long outdated cable modem, I was back online. It’s slow, but means I can wait to get a good deal on a more modern one. Never pay full retail is one of my rules.

    Ah, but when I look at someone using a phablet, I groan. It’s too big, I think, for its primary purpose as an on-the-go smartphone. I can’t put it in my pocket and it’s too big to clip to my belt. It’d have to go into a bag and, if I’m doing that, I might as well go with a tablet, so I have a decent screen for writing.

    Right now, I have little reason to upgrade. I layout books with InDesign sitting at a desk with dual monitors. Nothing needs to change there. None of my current writing requires a library, so I write on my MacBook at a used $15 tilting craft table I pretend is a $500 standing desk. My only unhappiness is that my iPad 3 is so blasted heavy, I hardly ever use it.

    Apple doesn’t help matters. It seems intent on offering products where a changing style trumps all else. Sir Ives the Anorexic seems to think that Mac laptops should do double-duty slicing bread. As a result, Apple’s laptops are so feature-impoverished, frail-looking, and impossible to upgrade or fix, that I’m sticking to my marvelous white MacBook, the Best Laptop Ever. No reason for an upgrade there. Apple needs to cater to the education market with a practical laptop like that old white MacBook and sell that same product to the public. Only an idiot would give a MacBook Air to the typical middle-school student. They need one built to military specs.

    That leaves the tablet space to feed my new-gadget hunger. If a full-sized tablet is too much, perhaps a iPad mini will do the trick, I think. Buying refurb, I might even justify getting a cellular data equipped model. I wouldn’t need a data plan full-time, just in a pinch or when I travel. Apple does have easy-on, easy-off data plans for their tablets. The downside is that a city-living Apple doesn’t know what cellular coverage is like in small towns. They hype GSM data, which means AT&T and T-Mobile. Where I live, for any provider but Verizon, I’d have to climb on my roof to get a decent cell signal. Why bother?

    So for now, there’s no need to change. What I’ve got is working as well as anything that might replace it. Gimmicks leave me unmoved, so why spend money to merely maintain the status quo. Wait and the only device I might consider, an iPad mini 4 (with or without cellular), will only get cheaper.

    That’s the Catch-22 that Apple, Samsung and others will soon have to deal with. In the desktop and laptop markets, hardware improvements are coming so slowly—or not at all in the case of Mac laptops—that new models aren’t appealing to careful buyers. Only with smartphones and to a lesser extent tablets are the improvements coming fast enough to justify buying new rather than waiting to buy used or refurbished a little later at half the price. Even there the fuss over mere screen size indicates the technology is maturing and change is slowing.

    And there’s a lot to be said for a mature technology. It means we can concentrated on simply using it rather than being trapped in an unending and often costly race just to keep up with the latest new thing.

    In short, we can adopt a lifestyle more like that of this lovely young woman in a quite funny video:


    –Mike Perry, Inkling Books

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