Recently a number of flagship phones released to a furore from tech geeks, nerds and wizards. From the highly praised Samsung Galaxy S6 to the middle of the road LG G4 to the innovate and out of the box Xiaomi Mi Note the one recurring factor is, phones are getting bigger (and the last time I checked our hands aren’t doing the same). This size revolution means a lot of apps aren’t making the best use of the screen real estate so its about time we start learning what changes need to be made.
Phablet. Whats that?
Simply put a Phone and a Tablet results in a Phablet. Or just a bigger phone (yet not big enough to be called a tablet). Phablets tend to range between 5″ to just under 7″ in screen size. Phablets have been around for almost 5 years now, with Samsung first bringing them to the mass market with their Note series, but with recent research showing that we still haven’t made best use of them, we thought it was just about time to look at how we might do that. The way we consume information has changed as well, with the majority of us consuming more and more content on the go (through our mobiles) which is as good a time as any to improve this information usage.
Thumb zone heat maps have been used as ergonomic research for years on phones, but the most recent ones for the ‘Phablet’ revolution show how our small hands can’t really keep up with the size increase. The ‘comfort reach’ zone has been reduced by almost a 1/4 meaning that placement of interactive elements becomes in-accessible or much more difficult to reach.
With Phablet use it was found users were switching hands and rotating their phones sideways much more regularly than on ‘standard’ sized phones because of the increased real estate. The obvious reason for this is the thumb map – and the torture in using a phone that big with one hand.
Designing for a Phablet
Designing for a Phablet isn’t all that different than what were used to for our typical devices only with a few new caveats. The big phone makers have already begun trying to come up with ideas that can benefit us in the use of these large phones. Samsung introduced Styluses (but they are a bit of an uncomfortable extension to use), Apple have introduced the double tap (on the 6s) that lowers the screen, but none of these seem like the RIGHT solution.
One potential solution is repositioning and re-prioritising iconography. Currently, especially on Android the most important functions are at the top of the screen, so flipping it upside down, might be a solution. Another touted solution has been playing on Apple’s revolutionary double-touch click. Admittedly this could only be viable on screens that can achieve this, it would give double the functionality in half the space. Then we have the tab option, with flaps being available that can be flipped open to reveal specific functionality.