The curious case of the expanding smartphone

It all started like this: mobile phones were big, heavy and difficult to hold. Fortunately, my first mobile phone was a Motorola that looked a lot like this one and it was small enough to fit in my pocket; however I still remember how uncomfortable was to walk with it given its bulky antenna and thick body.

As time passed by, mobile phones got smaller, lighter and more powerful. Any phone today is more powerful than the computer that brought us to the Moon. It felt like the microscopic mobile phone was closer than ever. That was the dream, those were the good times.

Then the world went crazy… and this happened:

I know what you are thinking, “is that last picture real?“. Yes, it is: Sony made a “mini handset” as a companion for your phablet. Phones are getting so big that it’s uncomfortable for many people to carry them in their pockets, so they end up using their bags or purses to carry them around. What happens when they get a call? They have to reach for that bag, which might not be as close as their pocket, and then look weird holding a large device next to their ears. Sony’s solution is for you to leave your phablet in the bag and take the call using the mini handset that lives in your pocket… it’s so small that you could even put it in your shirt’s pocket.

It looks like soon we’ll be reaching a confusing world… an Inception-esque situation were phones come with little companions to answer calls. What could be next? mini handsets with little monochrome screens, with great battery life, to send and receive calls and texts? What is going on!?

Unless you buy an iPhone, it is almost impossible to buy a high-end phone with a 4-inch screen. What happens with all those people that, like me, want a small/slim/light device that it’s also beautifully designed, and with a great screen/memory/processor? In other words, what about all the people who dream of the microscopic super-powerful smartphone?

It looks like we will have to settle with crappy screens, thick plastic bodies and slower processors. And if the rumor is true, there will be two iPhone 6 models with 4.7-inch and 5.5-inch screens… goodbye to the small-but-powerful phone market segment. Don’t you think that’s crazy?

It truly saddens me that soon, the only way of getting a small smartphone will be to buy a low-end device. I get it, big smartphones are what the majority wants… wait, is it really? According to a Flurry study from April 2013, “Phablets appear to make up an insignificant part of the device installed base, and do not show disproportionately high enough app usage to justify support“. That report states that phones between 3.5-inch and 4.9-inch screens are what the vast majority of people use… shouldn’t we be able to buy 4-inch high-end phones?

Of course, there is a clear interest in big screens. For media consumption, it’s much more pleasant to watch a movie on the go on a 8-inch tablet than on a 4-inch phone. Also, a phablet allows you to have only one device instead of two. But is it really necessary to leave the smaller phones only for the low-end market? No, it’s not.

Unfortunately, it seems like this trend is unstoppable; I’ll probably have to choose between a low-end device or a big screen when I buy my next smartphone, and given how important battery life is for me, I might choose a Nokia Lumia 635 without looking back.

4.5-inch phones are the new standard and I just hope that we don’t keep moving it up. I know I’m not alone.

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