Small-screen telephones were once a must-have item in your everyday wardrobe. But the time for small-sized gadgets has passed.
Smartphones with three-dimensional screens have been in use for quite some time. And, apparently, this trend will continue, so now is the time to pay attention to the process of developing mobile applications, taking into account how users interact with the new generation of mobile devices, especially with the so-called phablets.
What is a Phablet?
This word was formed by merging the English terms phone and tablet (phone and tablet).
In other words, it turns out that there are mobile phones that are much larger than conventional ones, but still not large enough to be classified as tablets. More specifically, their sizes usually range from 5 to 6.9 inches (120-180 mm). For comparison, the diagonal of the iPhone 5s is 4 ″; that is, the phablet differs from the smartphone precisely in the size of the screen, and the inner filling, what is under the body, is practically the same.
Phablets are not new to the gadget market, although, before the iPhone 6 plus, some pretended not to know they existed.
In 2011, Samsung “created” the phablet market with the 5.3-inch Galaxy Note, which immediately attracted consumer interest.
Research shows that people are now consuming more visual content on mobile devices than ever before, and the primary function of the phone – making calls – is receding into the background. And it is not surprising that the phablet segment will expand at an average rate of 36% per year through 2018, while the smartphone segment is expected to expand by 4%, according to Statista.
User Interactions with the Phablet
The advantages of phablets are clear, and it seems that many consumers will prefer them over their old smartphones. But even supporters of large screens do not quite understand why these devices are better in terms of usability.
The screens of electronic devices are gradually increasing (for example, several inches have been added to the latest versions of the iPhone), but the hands and fingers remain the same. You have to adapt.
You’ve probably heard of a hot map showing the most clickable areas of the screen and the places that are harder to reach. With this map, you can get an idea of how people hold their devices.
Designer Stephen Huber first coined the term “thumb zone” in his book Designing Mobile Interfaces (2011), describing this space as “the most comfortable area to touch when the user is holding the device with one hand.” Huber drew his conclusion based on numerous observations of how users handle their devices. In particular, it turned out that 49% of users hold a smartphone in one hand and all the necessary actions are performed with their thumb. The report of the same study notes that:
- 36% of users hold the device in a fixed position in one hand and move across the screen with their thumb or index finger.
- 15% use two hands for this purpose; 90% of them keep their gadgets vertically and only 10% horizontally.
But how has this relationship changed with the proliferation of phablets? Are users trying to reach the desired icon on the screen or changing the position of the device in their hand? A recent study by Stephen Huber found that “people often shift their gadgets from one hand to another and use a hand that is not their dominant hand.”
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But if you follow how the natural zone of the thumb changes on screens of different sizes, then, most likely, it turns out that users do not seek to torture themselves – to hold the smartphone in one hand and reach the right places. Apparently, they change their hands and the position of the smartphone, looking for the most comfortable way to hold the device.
Based on the above, we can assume that screen size will not be a problem for most people, and they will find a comfortable way to interact with their gadgets.
Also, do not lose sight of the fact that for many users phablets work in multitasking mode – and the ability to control the gadget with one hand is still important. Therefore, ideally, it would be reasonable to create a mobile interface in such a way that the main interactive elements remain within the boundaries of the thumb zone – in such a situation you don’t even have to change the position of the gadget in your hand. But in practical terms, this is not always possible.
How to Design a Phablet?
With a high degree of probability, it can be argued that the Samsung Galaxy Note was the first device in the phablet family. However, the only item that simplified interaction with him was the stylus. In some ways, it can help, but by and large, it is an auxiliary tool, and not everyone is comfortable with such a thing.
Apple developers in this regard are a little more concerned about the comfort of their users. After double-clicking on the Home button on the iPhone, the top of the screen will move downward. Thumb area. Of course, it takes more time and steps to complete the described action, but at the same time, this is an option that is not available to users of other phablets.
Another solution is suggested by designer Luc Wroblewski: arrange the most important elements at the bottom of the screen and, depending on the need, change the order of the icons. This is a pretty interesting option for iOS developers, which, however, is of little use for Android phablets, such as the Google Nexus 6, since there is a control panel at the bottom of the screen in this OS.
Phablets are definitely shaping a new way of consuming digital content as well as influencing the way mobile devices are designed. Design decisions must be made based on evidence of how people use electronic gadgets so that interactions with large screens are as convenient and comfortable as with small screens of smartphones. This is a real challenge for UX mobile app developers. The challenge is to find the most natural and painless way to handle 5-inch displays.