Remember the days when smaller sized smart phones were expensive? That time is gone. Huge screen mobile phones have been around for a long time and the trend recommends that they are not going anywhere. It’s high time to review the method we design for mobile considering the modifications in user interaction with the new generation mobile devices and particularly phablets.
What Is a Phablet?
The word speaks for itself: phone + tablet = phablet. So these are smart phones that are way bigger than we are utilized to, but still not big enough to be called a tablet. More particularly, the screen size of these devices normally varies in between 5 inches and to 6.9 inches (127 to 180 mm). For a comparison, consider that the iPhone Fives has a screen diagonal of only 4 inches.
So things that distinguishes a phablet from a smartphone is screen size. The stuffing is pretty much the very same as of a smartphone or a tablet.
Phablets are not new, though some individuals pretended they didn’t exist up until the recent statement of iPhone 6 Plus. However the truth is that Samsung “produced” the phablet market back in 2011 with its 5.3-inch Galaxy Note, which right away triggered customer interest.
Research reveals that people are taking in more visual material on mobile devices than ever, while the primary function of a phone, which is making voice calls, falls back. So with this in mind it is not surprising that the phablet sector is anticipated to grow at an average rate of 36 percent until 2018, when the remainder of the smartphone market will grow at only 4 percent per year, according to Statista.
User Interaction with the Phablet
Phablets are cool and most customers are expected to ditch their old mobile phones for these devices. But even those customers are not totally sure about the comfort of using phablets over regular smartphones. Things is that screens are growing, while our hands and fingers remain the exact same. So we have to change the way we connect with phablets.
You are probably familiar with the thumb zone heat map that details how people hold their smart devices and visualizes the hard-to-reach areas of the screen.
Steven Hoober initially used the term “thumb zone” in his 2011 book “Designing Mobile Interfaces” describing it as “the most comfortable area for touch with one-handed use.” This statement is based upon the analysis of 1,333 observations of smart devices in use, which showed that 49 percent of users hold their smartphones in one hand and by doing so depend on their thumb to get things done. According to the very same research;
36 percent of users hold their phones cradled, with either the thumb or finger on the screen
15 percent of users hold their mobile phones with two hands, out of which 90 percent hold the device vertically and only 10 percent horizontally.
But how does the picture modification with phablets? Do users try to extend and reach across the screen or do they switch the grip?
According to recent research performed by Steven Hoober, “individuals use their non-dominant hand, and they frequently switch hands, as well as the method they’re grasping the phone.” This describes various smart devices, including phablets.
However when we look at how the natural thumb zone modifications on different screen sizes, it becomes apparent that users are not going to abuse themselves with a one-hand grip aiming to reach all areas of the screen. The assumption is that they’ll simply alter the grip and adjust. With this in mind we can anticipate that users will not bother about the big screen size and will simply keep changing their grip to hold and interact with the phablet conveniently.
This may appear like a big relief, however considering that lots of users multitask while using their phablets, one-handed grip is still going to be a need. So preferably it would be smart to design the mobile interface the manner in which main interaction points remain within natural thumb zone. By doing this users will not even have to switch the grip.
But in reality this does not constantly work.
The best ways to Design for a Phablet
So Samsung Galaxy Note was basically the first phablet in the market, but the only thing it could offer to make the interaction simpler was a stylus. It does rather assist, however a stylus is just a complementary tool that not everyone like.
Apple appeared to be concerned with the comfort of its users a bit more in that sense. With the statement of iPhone 6 Plus, they also revealed the OS level “Reachability” feature: by double-tapping the home button, iOS will push the top of the screen down within users natural thumb zone. This feature is certainly not natural, it enhances the time on task and the variety of actions required to perform a job, but still it’s an option that other phablet users do not have.
Another solution offered by Luke Wroblewski is to reposition the most essential interaction points at the bottom of the screen and alter the order of all controls from bottom to the top according to their value level. I believe this might be a truly excellent choice for iOS developers, however won’t be relevant for a variety of Android phablets like Google Nexus 6 that has a bottom control bar, which may contrast with the application level controls.
Phablets are definitely shaping the way we take in digital material, impacting the way we design for mobile. We require more actual usage data and research to ground UX design choices and make the interaction with larger screens as comfortable similar to smaller smartphone screens. The real difficulty for UX professionals is to boost all the greatness of the phablet with the most natural and least painful way of interaction.