Google Bets Phablet

Google announced the Nexus 9 (9″ tablet) today.

A 9″ tablet in a 4:3 aspect ratio sounds a lot more like a “large” (traditionally 10″) tablet than a “small” (traditionally 7-8″) tablet.  And as long-time readers of Sandor at the Zoo know, “large” tablets are dumb.  Sure, there’s some market out there for people who have special needs or haven’t yet figured out about the “smaller is better” rule, but if you’re only going to be producing one tablet, why are you producing a large one?

The answer is found in their other announcement, the Nexus 6 (6″ phone).

Basically, all Android flagship phones have gotten big.  The HTC One M8 has a 5″ display.  The new Moto X has a 5.2″ display.  The Galaxy S5 is 5.1″.  And now the Nexus is a 6″.  To make this clear, the original Galaxy Note, originating the entire “phablet” concept, was 5.3″.  All Android flagships are now phablets.

Google appears to believe that if you’re carrying around a phone that’s already between 5 and 6″, you don’t also need a tablet that’s 7 or 8″ — essentially, that phablets will devour the small tablet market, leaving the only niche for tablets, tiny though that may be, in the “large” size.

I’m not sure I believe that.  An inch or two of diagonal doesn’t sound like a ton, but it actually changes the screen size pretty massively — if aspect ratio is held constant, the area of the screen size goes up with the square of the diagonal.  So a 6″ phone would be 73% of the size of a 7″ tablet with the same ratios, and only 56% the size of an 8″ tablet.  In terms of reading and web-browsing, the big use cases for small tablets, I think they’ll retain a significant advantage over phablets.

But it seems evident that Google disagrees with me.  Their bet takes the most easily recommended small Android tablet off the table.  And with Apple at least dipping their toe in the phablet waters, it may be that the small tablets just vanish off the market (though very believable rumors suggest that the iPad mini will survive through an update tomorrow).  We’ll see.


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