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.