Noticed a trend on the Vodafone shelves over the past few years? Our phones are definitely getting bigger. With the arrival of the 6.1-inch Huawei Ascend Mate, and the success of the 5.5-inch Samsung GALAXY Note 2, it seems that the big screen is here in a big way. But how long are things set to continue? We’ve been speaking to Vodafone’s Patrick Harrison-Harvey, the man who’s seen your future phones, to find out what’s coming next.
“In August, I’ll have sight of future products right up until June 2014,” says Patrick. “My job is to sift through the myriad of products and make sure we pick the right ones – the ones that are going to be the strongest in the market. Some of them, anyone could pick because they’re going to be obvious winners, but outside of your big iconic hero phones there’s a bit more analysis that needs to be done.”
Patrick’s the man in the know, then, and he’s sworn to secrecy when it comes to exactly what’s been presented to him, and which future devices he’s had in his hands. That said, he can give us a good idea of what’s coming in near future.
Rise of the Phablet
“Screen sizes definitely seem to be getting bigger,” he says. “The biggest I’ve seen recently is the Samsung GALAXY Mega, which has a 6.3-inch display, and the Sony Xperia Z ultra, which has a 6.4-inch screen.”
But are these devices phones? Or tablets? What’s the acid test?
“At the moment, ‘phablet’ is an industry term more than a consumer term,” Patrick explains, “and I don’t think anyone’s really thought up a better name for phones with really big screens. Tablets start at 7-inches, and these phones are 6.5-ish now, so they’re getting close.”
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“I’d define a phablet as a device that acts as your main phone. Some of these devices are right on the border of tablet and phablet, but some of that depends on the design – keeping the space on the front around the screen to a minimum is key.
“No one’s currently going beyond the 6.5-inch screen size, and those extreme sizes force people to consider whether that size is your main phone, or a compact tablet to have alongside it. The essence of a traditional tablet is that it doesn’t have a phone module in it, so you can’t make voice calls or send texts. That’s the distinctive part.”
Stopping the growth
Having a bigger screen is all well and good, but just how big will things go? We asked Patrick what he thinks will happen at the upper limit of screen size…
“There’s definitely a trend for growing the screen and keeping the device size down – to not increase the overall size of the device but to try and squeeze as much screen in as possible.
“Smart watches are already here…”
“We’ll come to a limit though,” he tells us, “where up to the 7-inch mark is the maximum size. There’ll be plenty of phones at over 6-inches that size that’ll look like bigger version of whatever’s the current flagship.”
And then, when the big phones are here in force, something new will come in to help us get the most out of them:
“Smart watches are already here,” Patrick reveals, “But in the near future they’ll let you answer and make calls. They used to be huge and clunky but not any more, so if the phone’s really big you might prefer to answer a call on your watch.”
And that’ll prove especially useful if your phablet’s big enough to warrant a space in your bag, rather than your pocket.
What goes up, doesn’t come down?
When talking about the new Ascend Mate earlier this month, Huawei’s James Powell told us that he thinks the shape and size of the human hand will inevitably stop the growth of our phone screens. But, no matter how big phones level out at, Patrick suggests we’re all slowly moving up the ladder:
“What we see from the customers who go for a bigger screen is that they definitely use it more – they watch a lot more media, and they use a lot more mobile internet data. On top of that,” he says, “What you use becomes the norm; people who go up in screen size and then suddenly back down will find that it does feel too small.
So should we all just accept fate and move to the biggest screen going? Not if you’re not ready: “The thing is,” Patrick says in closing, “is that there’s an individuality to what you think is too big, and there always will be.”
Future-gazing: There’s more to come from our talk with Patrick, as he explains what happens after we exceed the maximum size for phones as they currently stand. What’s coming in two, five, and ten years’ time? Stay tuned to find out…