by Joseph T. Sinclair
Just when you thought you might develop a strategy to publish for smart phones and tablets, another digital device emerges: the “phablet.” That’s what some are calling a phone-tablet.
Several industry surveys have indicated that more people read on their phones than read on tablets. If you go to a gate at an airport where people wait for their plane, you can get some verification of the surveys. Huge numbers of people view their phones as they wait. They are doing something with their phones. Indeed, reading a book with simple typesetting on a phone is quite satisfying. It’s like reading text in a newspaper column.
On the other hand, reading complex typesetting, and even Web browsing, is more practical on a tablet. You need the extra screen space to make sense of more complex and more aesthetically-pleasing information formats.
The drawback is that owning two devices presents numerous disadvantages, and the phone-tablet (phablet) may be the answer to simplifying one’s life.
Cost Smart phones and tablets each have a price range of $200 to $900. If the average is $500, your cost to own both is $1,000. As devices become obsolete quickly, that’s a recurring cost every few years or less. If you get by with one device instead of two, the cost is cut in half.
Practicality It’s nice to have the convenience of mobile devices everywhere you go. Phones provide convenience. Tablets are more awkward due to their larger size. Most people don’t carry their tablets everywhere. Phone-tablets are somewhat awkward, but you can still put one in your pocket and carry it around inconspicuously.
Power Keeping a device charged is a chore. Keeping two devices charged is a double chore. With only one device to look after, it’s easier to keep the battery charged.
Apps Getting the apps you need to make your phone useful is also a chore. Then you have to do it again for your tablet. When you get a new phone or tablet, you need to get your apps set up yet again. Apps are big project on the front end for a new device. Owning just one device makes this front-end project easier and less time-consuming. In addition, when you purchase or otherwise acquire a new app, you only have to load it on one device.
Library Restocking your ebook library on a new device is a chore. Fortunately, most ebook vendors keep your ebooks available online, so you can restock (download) to a new device without a problem. But it’s still a chore. With two devices, you need to do it twice. This is a front-end task that’s a lot of busy work and not much fun. To do it for two devices makes it twice as irritating.
Keeping Track Many people have trouble keeping track of their smart phone. Like car keys, phones are often misplaced. With the possible exception of full-size tablets, smaller tablets, such as 7-inch mini-tablets, are also easily misplaced and can prove difficult to keep track of. Having two devices, a phone and a mini-tablet, to keep track of can be doubly frustrating. Keeping track of one device is easier than keeping track of two devices.
Management Managing devices takes time and effort. To save battery power you need to turn off the wi-fi when you’re not using it. And turn it on when you need it. The same goes for the GPS and other features. If you forget to turn things off, the battery power drains more quickly. Keeping everything on or off for two devices is doubly frustrating. Conserving the battery power is a must for most phones and tablets. Is the wi-fi on or off? Is the GPS on or off? Are other power draining features and apps on or off? It’s easier to manage one device than two.
Camera Many smart phones now have very good cameras. Phone cameras have all but eliminated the market for point-and-shoot cameras. The future development of even better cameras in phones seems inevitable, and the photo quality for many phone cameras is all already quite high. The camera is a very attractive feature of the phone. That makes it very difficult to get along with just a tablet. Tablets don’t have good cameras. The phone-tablet answers that deficiency because it has a first-rate camera.
Phone It’s self-evident that a smart phone is a phone, and a tablet does not contain a phone. That’s a disappointment to many people who would be perfectly happy with a tablet that had a phone. Some tablets have access to the Internet via the cell phone system, but most do not. This is another disadvantage for tablets compared to phones. Thus, the phone-tablet answers one of the deficiencies of the tablet; a tablet doesn’t have a phone but a phone-tablet does.
What is the phone-tablet? Well, it’s a device larger than a phone but smaller than a 7-inch mini-tablet, a device that people can use for both a phone and a tablet. Such a device already exists. The Samsung Note was the first with substantial sales. Then Apple came out with the iPhone 6 Plus to compete with the Note. In 2014 the sales of tablets declined while the sales of large smart phones (phone-tablets) increased.
Most tablets have screens from 7 inches (diagonal) to 12 inches. The original Apple tablet has a screen that’s 9.8 inches. When Samsung came out with the Galaxy S3 phone, the S3 was considered a large phone and had a 4.8-inch screen. Today the S3-size screen for smart phones is the standard, not the exception. If there is to be a phone-tablet we would expect the screen to be about halfway between a standard phone and a mini-tablet. In fact, the two phones sold today that qualify as phone-tablets are the Samsung Note 5 and the Apple iPhone 6 Plus. The Samsung has a screen that’s 5.9 inches, and the Apple has a screen that’s 5.5 inches.
What does a phone-tablet have to offer? The answer is it has almost all the features of both smart phones and tablets. Its deficiencies continue to be Web browsing and complex typesetting. Although Web browsing is more fulfilling with a phone-tablet than with a phone, it’s still somewhat deficient in regard to complex websites. As for typesetting, the phone-tablet provides a screen big enough to accommodate most books except perhaps complex text books. With more people already reading more on their phones than on their tablets, the larger size of the phone-tablet screen is welcome to both readers and publishers.
The typesetting issue deserves further assessment. If you accept the premise that the phone-tablet screen is big enough for most types of book except textbooks, you have to ask, What about textbooks? The answer has to be that students will naturally gravitate towards phone-tablets away from tablets due to the issues discussed in this blog post, particularly the extra cost.
That raises the question, Do textbooks necessarily have to have complex typesetting? One answer is no. Textbooks cost so much that publishers can afford to enhance their attractiveness by including complex and aesthetically pleasing typesetting. But that may not be necessary to the learning process, particularly in the new age when audio, video, programming, animation, and other features can be embedded right in the text page.
Indeed, in a one-device world, one would expect the textbook publishers to accommodate students and academics by producing textbooks with less complex typesetting and more diverse media features. And if the textbook publishers won’t do so, producing and publishing such books at a local level is well within the capability of any segment of the academic community. As few as 20 years ago, it would’ve cost $100,000 to put together a diverse media digital textbook. Today a professor, a teacher, or a group of students can do it for $100. Consequently, it seems more likely that publishers will accommodate a phone-tablet than expect students to buy a tablet expressly for the one purpose of reading text books.
That leaves one type of information that cannot easily be accommodated by a phone-tablet. That is large tables of data. And data, particularly large databases, have become more and more important to business, science, medicine, and other fields. How do you display large tables of data on the small screen of a phone-tablet? It’s done much better on the large screen of a full-size tablet.
The answer may be that large displays of data are obsolete as learning contrivances. Because digital media enables you to incorporate a functioning database program accessible from a page of digital text, you no longer have to have a full page of data in front of you to do many types of data analysis. You can use the database software to manipulate, query, and display only the data that you need. In addition, you can even make database software display the data in charts and graphs or even as animated charts and graphs. The large tables of data of the printing age may be obsolete.
It’s not for me or you to decide which device is best. Together everyone will decide; that is, the market will tell us sooner or later what device most people will use. There seems to be an emerging trend, however, that indicates the phone-tablet may be the device of the future. That’s good news for publishers. The phone-tablet enables publishers to have more flexibility in the way they publish and is therefore a welcome trend. But right now we must assume that the phone is the favored reading device of the future, as it is for the present.
Will consumers continue to use smart phones with small screens? Probably. Will consumers gravitate towards phone-tablets? Perhaps. Will consumers continue to use tablets? It seems likely the tablets will always be with us, although they may become a specialized device. Will consumers continue to buy printed books? Not likely.
The author of this article, Joseph T. Sinclair, is the author of twenty How To books published by national publishers.
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©2015 Joseph T. Sinclair. All rights reserved.