The boundary between smartphone and tablet has been crossed again, and this time it’s by HP. The computer maker, trying to get back into the smartphone/tablet game, announced on Wednesday new 6-inch and a 7-inch “phablets.”
The HP Slate 6 VoiceTab and the Slate 7 VoiceTab are being described as “voice tablets,” emphasizing that they are small tablets designed for phone calls. Ron Coughlin, senior vice president of the Consumer Personal Systems Group at HP, said in a statement that “consumers are looking to consolidate their phones and tablets, which is propelling the voice tablet market.”
The Android 4.2.2-based phablets (or tablones, as we propose) feature a quad-core processor, voice-calling, and 3G Dual SIM support. The units also have front-facing speakers, a new IPS Panel display with an enhanced viewing angle, and HD cameras front and back.
Available in India
These models will be available in India in February and, although no launch dates for other markets have been made public, HP is clearly testing the waters for its return to devices. Pricing has not yet been announced.
In the early 2000s, the company was big in Microsoft Pocket PC/Windows Mobile smartphones, and an early HP tablet was used by Microsoft to show the potential for Windows 7 on tablets.
In 2011, HP retreated from consumer devices after being burnt by its $1.2 billion acquisition, and then abandonment, of Palm’s Web OS platform. About a year later, the company indicated it might be interested in getting back in, when it was ready.
Functional questions for devices in this in-between form factor include whether the screen is large enough to actually get any work done or to satisfactorily watch a video, and, at the same time, if the device is small enough to work as a phone and to fit into a pocket. It might well be too large to comfortably hold up to one’s ear, and may be intended for use with an earpiece/mike.
’50 or So Sub-Categories’
Ted Schadler, an analyst with industry research firm Forrester, told us that “vendors are looking for new market categories,” and the size between smartphone and tablet fits the bill for some users.
He pointed to field service personnel, for whom a tablet is too big to carry all day or fit into a pocket, while a smartphone is too small to enter and view all the data needed for work. A device like that Samsung Galaxy 3, with a 4.8-inch screen, is “perfect,” he said, “big enough to get business done, small enough to fit into a cargo pants pocket.”
Schadler said it is “inevitable” that there will not only be 2 or 3 sub-categories in the boundaries between smartphones and tablets, but “there will be 50 or so sub-categories.” These sub-category devices, he said, will appeal to those who don’t want to carry two devices, and could include general business or consumer horizontals as well as specific verticals like field service.