What the Heck is a “Phablet” and Why Should You Care?

what-is-a-phabletAccording a recent article in Time Magazine, tablet sales fell in the first quarter of 2014 for the first time since the market started heating up. There are several potential reasons for this slowdown.

The first and most obvious of these is that virtually everyone who wants a tablet already has one and that the market is just growing over-saturated at this point. While smartphones have been able to thrive and keep selling thanks to a two-year mobile carrier contract system, which seems to urge buyers to replace their phones every other year, tablets do not have a similar structure in place. More along the lines of laptops than smartphones, it is reasonable to expect that users are simply holding onto their tablets for longer than they do their phones, which in turn means fewer repeat buyers every year or two, and lower sales figures.

The Birth of the Phablet

A second potential reason for falling tablet sales figures, and the one discussed by tech writer Jack Linshi in the aforementioned Time article, is that large smartphones, or “phablets” (phone-tablet hybrids) are eating away at the tablet market share. For years, tech companies like Apple and Samsung have been able to get their customers to believe that they need both a smartphone and tablet. Phones are smaller, more compact, and more convenient, perfect for communication, on-the-fly web browsing, or simplistic games. Tablets, meanwhile, are larger and more powerful, and are, therefore, the better option for users looking to replace their laptops or desktops with a mobile device. For word processing, e-book reading, video streaming, or CPU-demanding apps, tablets have been preferable to smartphones.

Since both smartphones and tablets have, thus far, boasted different features and uses, tech companies have been able to essentially “double dip” with their customers. It is not uncommon to see someone toting around both an iPad and an iPhone for example. However, a new trend in smartphone development toward larger, more tablet-like devices, could stand to bring about the marginalization of one side of the market or the other. Since smartphones are still more ubiquitous than tablets, the tablet is the most-likely loser in this scenario.

What You Should Know

So why is the “death” of the tablet important, and what does it mean for you? On one hand, the blending of phones and tablets into phablets is great news for customers, who will likely end up getting more bang for their buck. Instead of owning both a tablet and smartphone, a consumer can feasibly just buy a larger smartphone that serves the core purposes of both. It will still be great for the on-the-go communications and diversions that modern smartphones support, but it will also be big enough to watch movies and read books, and powerful enough to run demanding apps.

The only potential issue with the growing phablet trend is that it could backfire on tech companies like Apple, whose next iPhone is rumored to be significantly larger than ever before. Like any other iPhone, the iPhone 6 will undoubtedly sell well. However, if it starts eating away at the iPad or iPad Mini market, then Apple could respond by raising the prices on its phones, or even eventually going back to the smaller designs of the current and past iPhone models. Either way, one thing is for sure: consumers are in for a ride over the next year or two, as companies figure out how to balance their smartphone and tablet offerings. Here’s hoping that the end result, whatever it is, is good news for customers.