Learning Center

Four Ways Phablets are Changing Mobile App Design

Written by delaPlex Software
February 17,2015


The word "phablet" is a hybrid of the words phone and tablet. In 2014, eMarketer, the digital marketing analysts, projected that the number of smartphone users would reach 1.75 billion by the end of the year. Tablets, however, have never enjoyed the same level of success. Smartphones and tablets were typically used for two different purposes, based in part on the extreme portability of smartphones. Users liked a device that would fit in their pocket or purse and still provide Internet access, but they disliked the small screens and navigation difficulties. Phablets were designed to offer the benefits of both smartphones and tablets in one device -- and consumers have embraced them. The 2014 estimates project sales of 175 million phablets. The increasing popularity of phablets has led to some important changes in mobile app design.

Natural User Interfaces

Buttons and links are often not easy for users to manage on a small screen. Apps for phablets will continue to use instinctive gestures --- particularly the finger swipe -- to make navigation easier. What navigation buttons remain can be moved to the bottom of the screen, giving developers a larger canvas on which to display their work. In addition, developers are continuing to rethink all the functions that could be controlled by a gesture and designing new controls that are not dependent on a "tap."

Using swipes to navigate is not a brand-new idea. Apple included a "swipe to go back" gesture in iOS 7, and Storehouse allows the user to exit by swiping in any direction. NUI is a nice feature to have on a phone with a small screen, but as screens increase in size, it becomes even more important.

People generally want to use their favorite apps in any orientation. To make this implementation easy, Apple already introduced a feature called “Auto-layout” to adjust the UI content according to the device mode which gives freedom to the developer to create unique designs for their phablet apps.

Split Screen Apps

The additional real estate offered by a phablet's larger screen allows developers to design apps that can run efficiently in split-screen mode. Apple has already implemented the feature in its iPhone 6 Plus and will be supporting it more in iOS 8. New developer tools, such as allowing developers to design apps that go to split-screen mode based on screen size, will help designers create apps that can stand alone or work in conjunction with other apps. For example, consider a driver using an app providing spoken turn-by-turn directions running in one view. In the other view, an app could be running that gave periodic weather or traffic updates, suggested nearby restaurants or played his favorite songs. Split screens could also be used to manage different functions within a single app, such as displaying the content in one view and the menu in the other.

Responsive Design

Responsive design has been recommended for websites for quite some time. However, making apps that can automatically adjust both size and content to match the device is a slightly newer concept. The popularity of phablets has added yet another dimension to the complexity of developing an app that will render correctly regardless of the device or platform used to access it.

Mobile devices, like desktop monitors, come in all sizes. Screens on phablets can be as small as five inches or as large as seven inches. Two inches might be insignificant for a monitor or even a laptop, but for phablets, it can make a substantial difference in the appearance of the app. Instead of trying to create a "one-size-fits-all" solution, more and more developers are embracing responsive design.

Apple also introduced a size classes concept in the development tool along with iOS 8 to develop apps which can respond according to the size of the iOS device. This concept is also important keeping in mind that Apple is going to launch iWatch in future and developers should be ready to create apps for that device also.

Inter-device Integration

"The Internet of Things" refers to the vast array of devices that can be connected to the Internet -- and to each other. Mobile app developers must now consider non-mobile devices that might need to be integrated with the phablet. One example would be an app that runs on a phablet which is used to control the television, DVD player, lighting or security system. Another example would be an app that receives input from a vehicle and then transmits reminders of maintenance services or warnings that a system is in need of repair.

Apple already added a HomeKit framework to its development tool to make this possible. HomeKit is the name for Apple's home automation framework for developers. With HomeKit, our iPhones and iPads will have a rational way to configure, communicate with, and control "The Internet of Things" around us, including connected lights, speakers, security systems, appliances, and more.

In Conclusion

Phablets are proving to be far more than a passing fad. Worldwide, these hybrid mobile devices are being embraced for both business and personal use. When any new mobile device is introduced, developers must adapt their skills to leverage the new technology in the most effective manner. The phablet is just one more example of devices spurring developers to reinvent the design process to maximize each device's potential.

If you are thinking about outsourcing phablet application development or you want to hire full-time dedicated phablet developers, we can help you with the solution that best fits to your needs. Contact delaPlex today for more details.

Additional References:

Smartphone Users Worldwide Will Total 1.75 Billion in 2014
Phablets Projected to Outsell Small Tablets in 2014

Resources for Readers:

4 Mobile Technologies That Will Change How You Do Business in 2014
Phones, Phablets, Tablets – Which Is The Device Of The Future?