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The Rise… and Fall… of the Phablet?

phablet1With the successful release of the iPhone 6 Plus, it seems Apple has finally capitulated and entered the “Phablet” market (Phablet being defined as half phone, half tablet). Loyal Samsung customers are of course happy to point out that this trend is nothing new to them. They’ve been carrying around oversized phones for years, with features that many will claim have been better than those offered on Apple devices. They derive a special measure of satisfaction in pointing this out to the Apple hipsters who are suddenly carrying an iPhone that’s too big for their pocket.

It’s interesting how things progress. Mobile phones started out as giant bricks – we can remember watching the 80’s classic film “Wall Street” seeing Gordon Gecko standing out on the beach talking to Charlie Sheen with a phone sized and shaped as if it were a rough approximation of a brick. Afterwards came the rapid downsizing of mobile phones – the ones that started looking like a space-age communicator from Star Trek. They’d flip open, and closed again, and could be concealed in the palm of your hand. The trend reversed again, as the idea took hold that your phone could be a mobile computing device. Phones started to have keyboards, and applications. And suddenly here we are today, carrying phones that are only a little smaller than a tablet, and using them for all kinds of communication, browsing, social media, and work.

But will it last? After all, there are plenty of downsides to these larger devices. iPhone 6 Plus users are beginning to notice the flaws – rumors of phones that bend if they’re left in a pocket when seated (since refuted). Phone batteries that don’t last an entire day. New challenges with one-handed typing. Phones that don’t really fit well in anything but a purse, and that are nearly impossible to exercise with. (Sidenote: Ever see anyone jogging with an iPhone 6 Plus in an armband?)

Of all of these, as we see it, the area that stands out as the biggest problem is the battery issue. Of course a variety of factors can impact battery life – the quality of reception, whether Bluetooth is running, apps that are always on, GPS in the background, etc. Results may vary from user to user, but what is certain is this: If you use your Phablet like you would use a Tablet or Computer, and you intend to use it for large chunks of the day, your battery will suffer. And having the battery die on a mobile phone is a lot more impactful than having your battery die on a tablet. How many millions of conversations each day start and end with ‘Hey I can’t talk long, my battery is almost dead’?

In the end, we love our Phablets and they aren’t going anywhere any time soon. The market data suggests continued growth in adoption. Only time will tell which direction customers will go next, but history tells us the pendulum always keeps swinging.

We hope that the next big renaissance in mobile devices will start with power – if the market can solve that problem, the rest of the problems fade into the background. We’ll gladly carry large Phablets, and cover half our profile when we hold them up to our faces, if only they can keep us from being leashed to our chargers and power adaptors. Somewhere out there is a startup entrepreneur working on this, figuring out how we can have mobile devices that run for days under heavy use. And when that happens, we’ll see the next wave of the mobile revolution.

Telling someone your battery is almost dead and you can’t talk long, though, may no longer be an option.

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