Mobile Devices Hit the Big Screen

Carl Weinschenk
Slide Show

Seven Tablets with a Business Edge

For years, mobile phones got smaller and smaller, starting from the shoebox-size brick Michael Douglas toted around in “Wall Street” and ending in the miniscule devices common today.

A funny thing happened on the way to the shrinking devices, however: The explosion of video is leading to bigger devices with larger screens. Suddenly, small isn’t a panacea. People understand that the bigger screens that come with the tablets and bigger smartphones are better for video and that the devices, overall, can do more things than their tiny antecedents. Demand for such devices is growing.

The general trend of bigger screens is most obvious in the growth of the combined phone/tablet “phablet” category. eWeek and other sites report that Hewlett-Packard is jumping back into the smartphone game (it exited in 2011) with 6-inch and 7-inch phablets. The Slate6 VoiceTab and Slate7 VoiceTab initially will be released in India.

Commentary in piece points to the fact that the move toward phablets isn’t only small devices getting bigger. Tablets are shrinking and will meet the smartphones in the middle:

Bob O'Donnell, IDC's program vice president of clients and displays, told eWEEK in September 2013 that the trend in tablets is toward smaller screens—away from 10-inch models and toward systems as small as seven inches. Meanwhile, screen sizes on smartphones are getting larger, expanding beyond five inches. Eventually these hybrid phablets will do all the jobs that users run on their smartphones and tablets.

O’Donnell left IDC and formed his own firm. The eWeek’s attribution was as of September. His views also are featured in a Forbes post by George Anders. O’Donnell makes a bold prediction:

In the United States, people routinely mock extra-big smartphones that approach tablet-computer dimensions. Maybe it’s time to stop snickering. Demand for these odd-sized devices is growing so fast in Asia, Europe and Brazil that “phablets” worldwide in 2014 should outsell traditional smaller tablets, predicts Bob O’Donnell, the founder of TECHnalysis Research.

“I believe the move to larger-sized smartphones will be one of the most important device trends in 2014,” O’Donnell, founder and chief analyst at TECHnalysis Research, told me today. “People’s interest in the 5-inch to 7-inch ‘phablet’ category, which is expected to reach about 25 percent of all worldwide smartphone sales within the next few years, will not only change the complexion of the smartphone market, but also the tablet market. Smaller 7-inch to 8-inch tablets, which have been the growth engine for the tablet market over the last several years, will likely be negatively impacted by this growth in 'phablets,' ” O’Donnell said.

The big screen will get another boost when iPhone 6 is released, according to Expert Reviews, a British site. David Ludlow mentions devices that are driving the trend – the HTC One, Sony Xperia Z and Samsung Galaxy S4 – and points to rumors that the iPhone 6 will have a 5-inch screen and will have full high-definition resolution.

A subtle side benefit for vendors and service providers is that bigger screens and bigger devices accommodate bigger and more powerful batteries. As devices got smaller, the industry increasingly faced the worst of both worlds: batteries constricted by the size of devices and consumers demanding rapidly proliferating power-hungry features and functions.

That still is the case, to a great extent. But businesses should be aware that big screens are coming. And some really are big: Roger Chen verified the trend with a report from last week’s CES on the availability of devices with 7-inch screens. The meeting of tablets and smartphones will change the dynamic for field forces and add still another wrinkle both for companies that supply devices to employees and those that have hopped on the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) bandwagon.

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