"Why is that man talking to a pencil box? Wait, that is a phone. But why is it so large?"
At least some of you might have thought this way after encountering someone speaking on an extra-large phone in the mall or even in your office. Well, there are people who think it is okay to make calls on extra-large tiffin-box size tablets. But these are different. These are the phablets - what you get when the smartphone ties the knot with the tablet. Whatever the name, there is no doubt that these are large, at least compared to the average mobile phone.
But why on earth do you need phones this large? The story could well have an Indian connection. It seems the value conscious Indian has been mulling whether to buy a smartphone or a tablet for sometime, putting off the purchase of both. So manufacturers thought it would be better to offer something that could provide the use and value of both. Voila, you have the phablet with a screen size almost as big as a tablet and with the ability to make calls. If value is the only criterion, why not buy the seven-inch tablets with calling facility, you might ask. Because keeping the size under seven inches puts the devices in the category of 'smartphone' and not 'tablet', the latter being taxed at a higher rate. So there is value in cutting a few centimeters.
Phablets are not new. The first of this breed came out of Dell's stables in June 2010. But the five inch Streak was way ahead of its time and did not have a victorious run. A year later, Samsung launched the 5.3-inch Galaxy Note
and made it the success that Streak could never be. Its sequel repeated the success a year later. Like everything else in the smartphone market, this success was good enough for others to see an opportunity.
So 2013 saw every manufacturer worth his salt try his hand at this large device. There were exceptions. Blackberry, Apple and Nokia stayed well clear of this race. But it seems the last named may finally be biting the bullet, or the phablet, if we can say so.
The latest trend, set by Huawei when its launched its 6.1-inch Ascend Mate earlier this year, is a push towards even larger phablets testing the limits of the human hand with sizes between six and 6.5 inches. Samsung followed suit with an aptly named Mega series with sizes of 5.8 and 6.3 inches. Sony was next in line with an Xperia Ultra at 6.4 inches. Note the name again.
These extra large screens, though good to flaunt, have limitations as far as usability is concerned. There is no way they conform to design guru Luke Wroblewski's "one eyeball, one thumb" principle, unless you are Paul Bunyan. Only his giant lumberjack thumbs would be able to take complete control of such a phone or reach the top of the phone's screen -- the average effective thumb reach being a mere 4.2 inches curve. There is also the fear that your vision may be blocked while taking a call on one of these phones, so much that you wouldn't see the Rajdhani Express come your way. And no, there are no efforts on at the moment to make these phones transparent. They may well also bring great coats back in fashion as no other piece of apparel has pockets large enough to hold them.
Companies are getting over this problem by offering 'single sided virtual keyboards'. Phablet fans, meanwhile, could contemplate thumb enlargements so that they have a good hand for the future.