Phablets don't get no respect

A report this week dismissed the phablet as a fad unworthy of developer support. Apparently BlackBerry and Samsung didn't get the memo

Forty years ago this week, Motorola vice president and division manager Martin Cooper made the world's first cellphone call on the company's DynaTAC model. Since that milestone, we've gone from being a nation in love with cars to one in love with phones. Demographics support this trend: While modern teenagers are in no hurry to get behind the wheel -- fewer than one-third of 16-year-olds navigate that rite of passage these days, compared to 46 percent just 20 years ago -- what teen would live without their mobile device for a week?

With the appeal of smartphones well-nigh universal, a proliferation of models and form factors is to be expected. But not so fast -- size matters, and smaller is better, according to a Flurry report this week that singled out the new large-screen phones, or "phablets," as a fad that developers shouldn't waste their time on.

The blogosphere quickly pounced on that death sentence. Websites such as TechCrunch and repeated Flurry's findings, and InformationWeek's Eric Zeman took the report as a launch pad to suggest "it is possible we've reached the point of diminishing returns in the race to make the smartphone with the biggest screen." Zeman concluded: "This leaves us pondering just how long phablets will be en vogue, and how soon might they go the way of the dodo."

Policymic's James Banks has gone so far as to warn that an Apple phablet could be the death of the innovative tech company. "Apple was not a company that catered to what people wanted. It was a company that decided what people wanted," Banks wrote. Apparently, people should not want phablets.

Only, they do -- almost lost among all the eagerness to pile on and diss the category was news that BlackBerry will likely ship two phablets this year. Samsung is rumored to be following up its uber-popular Galaxy Note II with a couple of new devices with even larger screens. And a Bloomberg report this week states, "Nokia's failure to enter the large-screen market early on marks the third time in a decade the company has overlooked a major trend."

Why such a strong streak of skepticism around phablets? Jared Newman, writing for Time's Techland, was onto something when he said, "Phablets are basically the Rodney Dangerfield of smartphones. Despite the popularity of jumbo handsets like Samsung's Galaxy Note, they get no respect."

I blame whoever it was who first coined the term "phablet." It obfuscates the fact that these are in fact phones, and the trend for the past five years has been toward ever bigger handsets. Engadget's Jon Gold notes:

Our smartphones are now pocket computers, and they're often our cameras and GPS units, too. Until and unless wearable computing replaces the smartphone, a bigger screen helps us process the glut of information we face in a day, and frequently provides a source of entertainment when it's time to relax.

Steve Jobs may be rolling over in his grave at the possibility of a large-screen iPhone, but I'm betting there's a sizable niche awaiting Apple, should it go there.

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