Consumers want Hybrid Smartphones, T-Mobile Claims

by Matt Klassen on July 20, 2012

The phablet invasion has officially begun, at least according to T-Mobile. While I truly never thought this day would come, smartphone customers in the U.S. prefer larger screens on their devices, a ‘study’ from T-Mobile claims. The country’s fourth largest phone provider polled more than 1,000 American customers this past May and found that a whopping 77 percent of smartphone users prefer a device that has a 4.5 inch display or larger, as opposed to a phone that has a smaller 3.5 inch display.

While I will certainly admit that the smartphone market is trending towards a larger screen (something I thought users would never go for) I still have to question T-Mobile’s survey results, as one certainly doesn’t have to look far to see T-Mobile’s special interest in the findings.

T-Mobile conveniently highlighted the results of this study while announcing the availability of the Samsung Galaxy Note, the markets first successful large screen hybrid phablet. Given the fact that the Note competes with the likes of Apple’s smaller iPhone, and the fact that T-Mobile doesn’t carry the iPhone, the results of this ‘study’ seem dubious indeed, a marketing slight-of-hand designed to convince you that T-Mobile has the phones you actually want.

What’s the best way to get people interested in larger display mobile devices (recently dubbed ‘phablets’)? Tell them that ¾ of all mobile users are already interested in them; peer pressure is a great motivator for any age demographic. While I certainly can’t go as far as to say that T-Mobile has fabricated the results of this study, there’s no question that the carrier’s purpose behind the study was motivated purely by marketing.

The fact of the matter is that being the only major U.S. provider to not offer Apple’s iPhone, the lifeblood of T-Mobile’s business comes from the likes of Samsung and HTC, and what better way to drum up some enthusiasm for those companies’ larger display devices than to roll out this survey?

“T-Mobile’s lack of an iPhone was probably a motivating factor for this study,” Colin Gibbs, analyst at GigaOM Pro, said. “The carrier continues to struggle without Apple’s phone, and it’s doing just about anything it can to call attention to its high-end phones.”

My scepticism regarding T-Mobile’s motives aside, the carrier’s findings do actually mirror survey results from other sources, said Gibbs. “The market has proven that there’s substantial demand for bigger screens with the success of gadgets like the Droid X, which has a 4.3-inch screen.” In fact, recently other independent surveys have found consumer interest in larger displays to be even higher than T-Mobile’s 77 percent, with a poll from Strategy Analytics showing over 90 percent of respondents wish they had a bigger display on their smartphone.

While the literal growth of smartphones has long confused me, perhaps it can be explained as an expression of the mobile market still trying to find the perfect form factor for the hand-held computing platform.

Given that tablets are getting smaller and smartphones are getting bigger, perhaps the explanation of the rising popularity of the phablet hybrid segment is that now exists as the next evolutionary step towards the eventual combination of these two distinct mobile categories…I just have to wonder exactly how big people will want their smartphones or how small they’ll want their tablets.

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