Does Microsoft have a Phablet Strategy?

Recent reports are that HTC cancelled a Windows Phone 8-based entry into the so-called Phablet category.  Phablets, for those who don’t follow these things, are crossover devices between Phones and Tablets with screen sizes starting at 5″.  I tend to think of them as Frankenstein Phones because I can’t see anyone carrying around a 4.0+” screen phone and a 5.0+” phablet.  The capabilities are just too close.  If you go the phablet route then you are probably someone who uses your device as a tablet 95% of the time but still needs phone capability because you don’t want to carry a phone as well.  So you are looking for the biggest thing you can get that still squeezes into a pocket.  A big pocket.

I thought Phablets were a category that was DOA, but Samsung’s success with the Galaxy Note proves there is a market for such devices.  Maybe I should have been more open-minded as Phablets are what we used to call PDA Phones.  That is devices that are PDAs with phone capabilities added to them, a category pioneered by Microsoft and Palm.  They disappeared after the iPhone came out, but apparently the desire for them remains.  This may be yet another case of Microsoft pioneering a category, abandoning it to others, then being forced to claw their way back into it.  So far though the category remains a niche.

The problem for Microsoft is that its strategy (as far as we know it) leaves such devices out.  HTC reportedly killed its effort because Windows Phone 8 doesn’t support a 1080P screen resolution.  That may be the case, though other factors might play here too.  The Samsung Galaxy Note II is a 5.5″ screen device, for example, and Windows Phone’s chassis definition (last I looked, which is a while ago) only supports devices up to 5″.   Samsung may have already pushed the definition of Phablet beyond where Windows Phone 8 can go.  Windows 8/RT doesn’t currently seem at all appropriate for devices below 7″ and has been so far focused on devices that are 10.1″ or larger.

There is another issue here of course.  Apple and Google have taken the approach of a fully common OS between phones and tablets (and different OSes for notebooks/desktops) whereas Microsoft uses common underpinnings but different OSes for phones and tablets with the tablet OS being common with notebooks and desktops.  For the Google Android world that means Phablets are just part of the continuum.  Microsoft can’t currently address the market that way.  No matter how big you make the screen, a Windows Phone 8 device is still going to be a smartphone and not a tablet and Windows RT is not going to be a smartphone.

Don’t weep too much for Microsoft.  It’s design decisions give it an advantage in the tablet to notebook continuum that is ultimately more valuable.  Not only that, so far Apple has eschewed the Phablet space confirming it might remain a fairly small niche.  So the question becomes, does Microsoft ignore Phablets completely?  If not, how are they going to address them?

One could read HTC’s product cancellation as an indication they don’t believe they can create a competitive device using Windows Phone 8, which is probably true.  Or one can read it as they learned what Microsoft’s real strategy is and decided that the device they planned no longer made sense.  In other words, did Microsoft give them a reason to redirect their resources to some other Microsoft-related effort?

Windows Phone is already on an annual release schedule (with minor updates more frequently) and that is what Windows is now expected to do as well.  In addition some rumors have a fall 2013 for both OSes that is more integrated than they currently are.  One suggested a merging of Windows Phone and Windows RT.  While I think more integration is obviously going to happen, it is hard for me to imagine full merging of the two in that timeframe. So it makes me wonder if one of the things coming in 2013 is a way to address the Phablet market.

Is there a “Windows RT Phone 8.1” Phablet OS in our future?  I’ll be looking for more hints of it as 2013 dawns.


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6 Responses to Does Microsoft have a Phablet Strategy?

  1. JimmyFal says:

    “The problem for Microsoft is that its strategy (as far as we know it) leaves such devices out. ”

    And just in time for Xmas where we thought Win 8 was finally in the game, they are also out of the 7″ market and the Nexus 7 will sell well in it’s place.

  2. dave says:

    I like that Nokia are rumored to be pursuing an RT tablet, and HTC are rumored to be pursuing a largescreen phone.phablet. Seems lime someone is coordinating behind the scenes. 🙂

  3. markuslaff says:

    A Surface Phablet would be a killer device. Currently, Microsoft’s trying to differentiate with Office, OneNote, and Xbox on Windows Phone. Editing documents, taking notes, and playing games are all better on a bigger screen. It would make a lot of sense for Microsoft to move into this area themselves.

    The phablet space requires a company to spend a little more time thinking and customizing software to take advantage of the extra real-estate. It is a strange space in-between phones and tablets. I think a phone with stylus for OneNote and even the possibility of a little flip-out touch cover could be a very convenient for meetings or giving more control in a videogame. Samsung’s software on the Galaxy Note looks very clumsy and ripe for a company with more experience in software development to disrupt them. Obviously, they should license this software to their competitors so Samsung could make a Ativ Note.

    Outside of the software, the Surface Phablet makes sense because:
    it is a premium marketplace
    it lets them experiment with what optimal hardware and features should be for this range
    it avoids them entering the mainstream smartphone area and offending their partners.

    Sounds like a good strategy overall.

  4. I adore the newest smartphones which might be coming out.
    Hopefully by the end of the year Samsung will take over the marketshare and take
    apple out. Keep up the nice work and Rock on android !

    Got a chance to love the way android is killing it with all the phablets
    they’ve developing. Never did just like the iPhone but sooo
    want to experience a new slideout keyboard model as opposed to bluetooth addons.
    O well still liked the write up!

    Finally an excellent learned about smartphones what
    is developing. I prefer the reality that you will find
    others that feel the way I really do LOL. Thanks

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