The phablet craze

Phablet. It’s a word that left us as quickly as it came. It was all the rage four years ago when I wrote a whole article about it, but I can’t remember the last time I heard someone say it. It’s just not a word we needed, apparently, so it just didn’t stick around.

What was a “phablet?”

The word “phablet” came about because about five years ago, smartphones started veering away from that standard iPhone size with a screen roughly 3.5″ diagonal, into much bigger and bigger screens. It was an acknowledgement that people texted more, looked more at the screen, and needed bigger phones to hold bigger batteries. All that stuff is still true, so much so that the “phablet” of days gone by, once considered almost as big as a tablet, is today’s standard size phone. Most smartphones come with a 4.5″, 5.5″ or 6″ screen, that’s just the norm. So there’s no need for a word to describe it.

The real reason no one uses the word “phablet” anymore

When “phablets” started getting big, so to speak, the media asked itself why. The answer most blogs had, and the one I wrote about, was that a larger device had room for a larger battery. The reality was far more simple. We all just wanted bigger screens

Think about it. Ten years ago a phone was used mostly for phone calls. When was the last time you answered a voice call that didn’t end up being a robocall? Especially for young people, voice is the least important app on the phone.

What’s the most important app? Either web browsing or video. For both, you want to have the largest possible screen. At the moment, a bigger screen means a bigger phone. And although we don’t call it a “phablet” anymore, we still want those phones with a 5 or 6 inch screen.

Will phones keep getting bigger?

Phones have probably gotten as big as they can get. A 7″ or 8″ phone would be practically impossible for most people to carry and it would be so heavy that most people would start to consider it a burden. That’s led to some speculation as to the next trend in phone design.

Foldable phones

Samsung seems to be banking on foldable phones. There have been a number of leaked prototypes of a phone that has one big screen that unfolds flat with no gap in the middle. It’s a pretty tough thing to get right, though. We’ve been talking about foldable phones for some time and they’re still not here.

I do believe Samsung will come up with a 1st-gen foldable this year but it won’t be very good. It will end up being a lot thicker than most people will want. There’s also the matter of a case. People need cases more than ever. With new phones clocking in at over $1,000 people are counting on high resale value in order to be able to turn those phones around when they want a new one. Resale value is dependent on a case, and it’s hard to know how a case would work on a foldable phone.

Projector phones

No one really puts out a projector phone anymore. This was a very short-lived fad where a picoprojector was built into a phone. This created a big lump in the phone, decreased battery life, and you needed to be pretty close to a wall to see the projected image. Even then it was pretty dim. I don’t hold out a lot of hope for this.

“Something else”

I think the real game-changer for phone size hasn’t been invented yet. I imagine something like a projector that sends a 3D image above the phone possibly using mist projection like Disney uses at its parks. Or perhaps true holography in real time, which is something we’ve been promised for years and has yet to materialize. I forecast that we will see some really wacky ideas in the next few years.

What about a tiny phone?

If anything we need a new word for the size of phone we used to have. Unfortunately “micro-phone” is used for something else. Tinyphone? I don’t know. Palm tried to launch a micro-sized phone this year, one smaller than an original iPhone. It looks like a flop. Despite everyone’s protests that they want to cut down on screen time, we can’t seem to quit our phones.

All I know is that no one says “phablet” anymore.

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 8,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.