It all started with the Samsung Galaxy Note back in 2011 - and the industry has never been the same since.
In fact, many of us at Entropy have abandoned our iPhones for the green fields of Android and 5.5 inch (and above) smartphones. Heck, 5.5-inch screens are getting downright common-place these days - just ask those of us who have opted for 5.7 and even 6.1 inch phones.
Where do Smartphones end and Phablets begin?
Even Apple is rumoured to be getting in on the act, with 2 purported new models of the iPhone set to be announced on the 9th September - a 4.7 inch version alongside a much larger 5.5 inch variant. And judging by Apple's likely entry into this category through gritted teeth (you just know Tim Cook hates having to release a Phablet-sized iPhone), the focus on super-sized handsets will only increase.
And we totally get it. Since using the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 and HTC One max the past few months, I've almost entirely stopped bringing along an iPad for the daily commute. After all, the iPad Mini is only about an inch larger than the Samsung or HTC Phablet - so it's becoming increasingly difficult to justify carrying two touchscreen devices every day, especially when there's only about an inch between them.
Point is - with iOS and Android Phablets set to explode even further onto the scene 2014, what is the potential impact on mobile app design, planning, and strategy?
Bigger iPhones are afoot...
Well first thing's first - the current standard of "universal" app builds for Android and iOS don't address the Phablet category at all unfortunately - as traditional app development centres on two total layouts: one dedicated layout for the Smartphone and one for the Tablet.
Thusfar all Phablet devices (Galaxy Mega, HTC One max, LG G3 Stylus, Sony Z Ultra, etc) have utilised the Smartphone layout of apps on Google Play - meaning what you inevitably get is just a very large Smartphone interface.
And that's a shame given the screen real estate available in a 5.5 inch (not to mention a 6.1 and above) screen.
In fact, you can almost argue the tablet layout would serve the Phablet user better - as I've found the device to be a lot more akin to say an iPad Mini or 7-inch Android device in terms of input, gestures, and physical control.
When we hear the big news from Cupertino in a few weeks, it is likely Apple will follow Google's lead with forcing only an app's smartphone layout to their Phablet devices.
With that in mind, this world of very large screens and sub-tablet devices now begs the question - how will Smartphone layouts need to evolve to meet the demands of larger screen devices?
Today, the typical Smartphone app for Android must take into account a minimum 4-6 different screen sizes (from 4-inch up to 6.1 inch). Should Apple release a 4.7 and 5.5 inch variants of the iPhone, iOS Developers will be looking at a Smartphone layout that must confirm to at least three sizes - 4, 4.7, and 5.5-inch.
But more importantly, how will the largest of these layouts differ from the only slightly larger iPad Mini and 7-inch Android tablet layouts?
The variance in Smartphone screen size is set to expand dramatically.
It's a lot to consider - and it's something we struggle with for each new Android app we design. From a UE perspective, everything from touch targets to font sizes and navigation effects are impacted by significant jumps in screen size (from say 4-inch to 5.9-inch). Fortunately Google provides some excellent layout tools to help mitigate some of the headaches - but it's inevitable that our current design language for Smartphone apps will have to change dramatically in coming months.
For our clients and content owners/developers alike, it means more time will need to be invested in the early stages of app design - from wireframes to initial Alpha releases - both customising and testing the builds against a growing number of devices.
After all, Phablets are here to stay, and it's time we all prepare for the inevitable shift in app design, development, and content planning that is emerging with this significant new device category.
Watch this space, as we expect we'll have a lot more to talk about in a few weeks once Apple, Samsung, and LG take the wraps off their latest Phablet lineups.