Why Giant Smartphones are the New Normal

Ascend MateUntil a very recent epiphany, I had been observing this trend of growing smartphone screen size with puzzlement. Android smartphones grew to 4 inches. 4.5 inches. 4.8 inches. Then Samsung releases the Galaxy Note at 5.3 inches. And now the Note 2 at 5.5 inches. And now Huawei has just released a a phone with a 6.1 inch screen (the Ascend Mate, pictured above).

Yet Apple was not wrong that good one-handed operation maxed out at a screen size of about 3.5 inches diagonal. And you definitely look a bit odd holding a tablet to your head. And these things are giant in your pocket, if they even fit. So what is driving this?

I confess, I was at a loss, but after reading some CES coverage, I think I have a theory. And the theory is based on the demographics of who is buying these things. You see, apparently the Samsung Note is a huge success (i) with kids and (ii) in the developing world. What do they have in common? Limited budgets. If you are forced to choose between a phone and a tablet, why not pick one device that is a compromise between the two?

Sounds pretty obvious, but think about it: you don’t have to buy two devices. You don’t have to purchase two data plans (one is bad enough), or settle for a wi-fi-only tablet without a connect-anywhere cellular radio. You only have one device to keep up to date. One device to buy apps for. One device to charge. One set of accessories and chargers. One device to carry. One device to keep updated. Plus you always have your tablet with you.

Is it a perfect solution? Absolutely not. These things make ridiculous phones. But voice is increasingly taking a back seat to messaging and video conferencing, and people increasingly use headsets for voice anyway. With a chassis this size, you can stuff a monster battery in for all-day battery life, even if you are texting and gaming all-day long. Nor do these franken-phones make great tablets when compared to a larger screen, but surely they are better than no tablet at all, whether because you cannot afford one or because you don’t want to lug a giant one around. And for serious viewing, they often act as a mere second screen or toss their picture onto a big screen using a wifi link, so the video aspect is less critical.

So it’s clear to me that these so-called “phablets” are here to stay. Cellphones gave way to feature phones, which gave way to smartphones. It now looks like the internet in your pocket is so compelling of a value proposition that smartphones are not so gradually becoming small tablets. It’s a brave new world. No idea how this will play out, but if I made laptops, I’d be pretty freaked.

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If you enjoyed this post, you might enjoy: Instagram’s Turn for a Face-Palm, Something From Nothing – Bringing the Store to the Customer, What Publishers Just Don’t Get: Why Zite Wins, Magazine Meltdown – But is Radical Tablet Innovation the Cure?, Cloud-Enabled Business Models (Or Why iTunes Match Will Change Your Phone), AT&T Sucks Too, 10 Best Things About Apple’s iOS 5, Shooting Out The Lights: Google + Motorola Mobility, Android: Barely Controlled Chaos and Kludgy Results, Open: Good, But Not Easy, Steve Jobs: “These New Tablets Will Be DOA”, Platform Economics at Work.

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