Bigger is better – at least, that's the message we can take away from the rash of recent "phablet" launches.
Sony has unveiled the 6.4in, Snapdragon 800-powered Xperia Z Ultra, joining the 7in Asus Fonepad and Huawei MediaPad Vogue on the shelves. At a shade under the size of the Apple iPad Mini, these plus-size phones have been the cause of much merriment – hardly surprising, when the press shots of carefully-scrubbed models holding 7in slates next to their ear recall Dom Joly bellowing into an oversized handset.
But the implications of these phone/tablet hybrids are interesting – not least for the wearable tech market.
Phablets: they're no joke
Huawei MediaPad 7 Vogue
Sony Xperia Z Ultra
According to market research firm Gartner, tablet shipments are set to increase by 67.9 per cent over 2012, while the mobile phone market is only set to grow by 4.3 per cent – down from 7 per cent last year. And those tablet users are increasingly expecting always-on 3G connections – research firm Cisco reports that in 2012, the number of mobile-connected tablets rose from 14.4 million to 36 million.
Using your smartphone as a hotspot for a Wi-Fi only tablet won't cut it anymore – but the phablet lets you have your cake and eat it. After all, if you've got a tablet with a 3G connection, why not add voice calling to the mix? And if it's too big to hold in your dainty digits, there's a solution for that, too.
Grin and wear it
Sony Xperia Z Ultra handset
At the launch event for the Xperia Z Ultra, Sony unveiled a Bluetooth Handset for its plus-size phone, which acts as a mini-mobile for taking calls. And in some markets, HTC's offering the HTC Mini Bluetooth phone as an accessory – it's a fully-equipped phone with a T9 keypad for texting, too.
"The pocketability of phablets is compromised," says Gartner research director Roberta Cozza, "so it makes sense to have an accessory from which you can initiate or answer a call without bringing a 6in device to your ear. And at Google I/O, it was announced that we're going to have a native Bluetooth API in the SDK, finally. So we're going to see an explosion of Bluetooth-enabled wearables and specific smart accessories around these Android phablets."
Power in your pocket
Sony Xperia Z Ultra
With phone networks shying away from introducing multi-SIM contracts for users, a phablet/Bluetooth handset combo looks like an increasingly attractive prospect if you want the flexibility of a permanently-connected tablet and a smaller phone on the go.
"We see users need to have multiple device ownership," says Cozza. "In the US we've seen some carriers offering family SIM plans where you can share data across devices. We haven't seen this yet in a big way in Europe – so users are looking for other ways in which they can use multiple connected devices."
So there is a future for the phablet – as a pocket 3G hub for an array of wearable Bluetooth-connected devices, from Google Glass to mini-handsets to smartwatches. After all, if you've got a 7in phone, you don't need to lug around a smartphone and a tablet. Though nothing changes the fact that you'll look supremely daft taking calls on a 7in device.
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