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Flurry Says Phablets are a Phad – I Disagree

flurryThe app analytics firm Flurry was combing through their haystack of app data reports this week and they have pulled out a few needles to share with us.

This firm is collecting a massive amount of information from more devices than you can shake a stick at ("about 1 billion smartphones and tablets in use around the world every month"). Earlier this week Flurry aggregated the data and shared a few charts that show how the variously sized mobile devices (iOS, Android, Blackberry, and Windows Phone) are being used.

There’s a couple points that deeply interest me, but the one that is most important is Flurry’s conclusion about phablets. Flurry says they are a fad; I disagree.

First, let me explain the charts. They are color-coded based on how Flurry split the devices into 5 categories:

1. Small phones (e.g., most Blackberries), 3.5” or under screens
2. Medium phones (e.g., iPhone), between 3.5” – 4.9” screens
3. Phablets (e.g., Galaxy Note), 5.0” – 6.9” screens
4. Small Tablets (e.g., Kindle Fire), 7.0” – 8.4” screens
5. Full-size tablets (e.g., the iPad), 8.5” or greater screens

Here is the first and most important chart. As you can see, the iPhone sized screen is the single most common screen size, accounting for 69% of the number of models on the market (not sales). That category is also the most heavily used.


Note: The top bar shows a numerical count of the number of models in each category, meaning that 69 out of a hundred models on the market were medium-sized smartphone (and not 69 out of a hundred units sold). The bottom bars show active users and sessions. For example, 76% of all sessions recorded came from medium smartphones.

Flurry is looking at this chart and reaching the conclusion that phablets aren’t very popular; they only account for 3% of active sessions. I disagree.

Here’s the problem with pointing to this data and calling the phablet a fad. Smartphones took off in 2007 with the launch of the iPhone, while the first successful phablet was released only 18 months ago (to the best of my knowledge). That was the Samsung Galaxy Note. (I’m ignoring the Dell Streak 5 because it was from Dell and also because it was from Dell.)

Flurry is looking at a mobile device category that effectively didn’t exist in September 2011 (and currently only sports a double handful of models) and calllling phablets a fad because phablet sales of are dwarfed by sales of smaller smartphones, a mobile device type that got its start 6 years ago. Do you see the problem?

Flurry is faulting phablets for not being an overnight success. That’s just not a reasonable conclusion, IMO.

Do you know what I see in this chart? I think phablets are rapidly replacing 7″ tablets like the Nexus 7. Note how the phablet category accounts for 3% of sessions while the next larger category accounts for 4%?

Even though there are far more 7″ tablet models on the market than phablet models, the phablet category is showing up as being used proportionally more. Considering the fact that phablets are more expensive than most 7″ tablets, and that the Android tablet market is growing by leaps and bounds, I would say that the phablet is seeing a lot of success.

The other detail that I found interesting is that users are reading and watching videos more on medium smartphones and gaming more on medium and large tablets. That is not what I expected; I thought there would be more reading on large tablets. That is, after all, the home of the iPad. But clearly users disagree.


Then again, smaller smartphones are more portable than phablets or tablets so they are more likely to be carried around in someone’s pocket all the time. That could account for the increase in usage.

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Dan Meadows April 2, 2013 um 10:29 am

I’ve long felt the phone will become the default ereader, not the tablet. It’s the far more pervasive device, the "vhs player" of digital technology that will be in nearly everyone’s hands. I agree that the phablet, so long as it still fits in your pocket, does indeed have a sizable future and may well take some of the gaming & streaming video use away from tablets, particularly the smaller varities. In the end, consumers will decide, but I believe the multipurpose yet fit-in-your-pocket-portable phablet has big possibilities for growth.

Format C: April 2, 2013 um 10:47 am

The main point that emerges from this analysis is that as soon as you buy one of those creepy devices, whatever its size, you are cataloged, analyzed, dissected, x-rayed, recorded and filed.
It’s the closest thing to "selling your soul" I can imagine.

And still, not being able to find single situation where a smart ithing can actually be useful, I wonder how giving away your own life does not bother the consumer….

But, maybe, I’m just old.

Paul April 2, 2013 um 10:53 am

I think it all depends on weight. If the 7 inch tablets become as light as the 5-6.9 inch phablets then they will maintain their dominance. Otherwise more people will move to the phablets.

Justin April 2, 2013 um 2:29 pm

How could you not title this, "Flurry Says Phablets are a Phad?" for shame

Nate Hoffelder April 2, 2013 um 2:30 pm

I chickened out.

Justin April 2, 2013 um 6:21 pm

It’s never too late to set things right.

Nate Hoffelder April 2, 2013 um 6:32 pm

I did.

Kevin April 3, 2013 um 7:34 am

What was the original title?

Nate Hoffelder April 3, 2013 um 7:41 am

Fad == PHad

Ravi April 2, 2013 um 9:16 pm

The line drawing is also amazingly arbitrary. It’s perfectly set up for "Phablets Surge!" in a little while because of the SGS4, Xperia Z and other 5 inch flagships. For that matter, if they’d cut at 4.8 inches instead of 4.9, phablet adoption would be much bigger because they’d pick up the SGS3.

I think a better view of phablets is that they’re the leading edge of a trend to larger screen sizes. Instead of "Phablets are a fad" I’d have been far more interested in seeing how a finer-grained distribution of screen sizes has been evolving over time.

Patanjali April 3, 2013 um 12:21 am

The Flurry data is garnished from apps that have included Flurry code that 'phones home' with what you are doing, in an anonymous way, of course.

This is similar to what MS does with Windows telemetry, but at least they ask up front whether you want to be included. I have never noticed an app asking whether I consented to my usage data being fed to its maker and Flurry.

The problem is that unless Samsung has included that same Flurry code in their apps, the possibly large amount of time that many of their phablet users use just their purpose-built included apps is totally unrepresented.

Third party apps usage may be less biased because the aggregates may even out across those with and those without Flurry code, but whether one of the top two portable device manufacturers uses the code or not can have a severe effect upon the reliability of Flurry data for those types of apps included with devices.

Does Flurry even know what demographic biases are inherent in their data? Some app categories may not be the type that would tend to use such data funneling techniques because their target audience may be adverse to them. For example business users.

The only way they could do that is to do some analysis on what they don’t know from the telemetry and determine correction factors for particular demographics. That means some demographics may be more uncertain than others.

However, the Flurry site is NOT transparent about any of this. Their blog unashamably pronounces their figures without any caveats at all.

Thomas April 3, 2013 um 1:01 am

Is there any information on where this data is coming from? As near as I can tell from the site, they are only getting information from specific apps that include their spyware. If that’s the case, none of my reading makes the list because I use FBReader. Also, I turn my wifi off when reading to save the battery.

Augsutobafua April 8, 2013 um 10:34 am

The Samsung Galaxy S4, is it a phone or a phablet?

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