The "phablet", a hybrid of the smartphone and tablet, continues to be reported as the fastest growing device type. Usage has been steadily on the rise for a number of years, becoming even more apparent since the introduction of the iPhone 6 Plus back in 2014. How do users of these devices browse the web and how can websites be optimised for their needs?
A phablet is categorised as having a touchscreen of 5-7 inches. Providing a large screen for comfortable browsing on such a portable device means that its growth has been at the expense of the tablet. A global decline in both their shipment and usage on the web was reported by Adobe Digital Index in February. Tamara Gaffney, Principal at ADI, explained that "...instead of buying both a smartphone and a tablet, people are opting for 'phablets' and relying on just this one device—with a larger screen—for all of their browsing."
The additional real estate on the screen means an increasing amount of online tasks can now be comfortably performed on a mobile device. So it’s safe to say that we can’t assume all mobile users will be strictly task oriented rather than on a website to browse. So who are these users and what do they view on their device? According to data from Flurry Analytics, there are three categories for which growth in smartphone usage can be mostly attributed to phablet users. These are News & Magazine apps, Sports & Music and Media & Entertainment. They also previously reported that phablet owners over-index in the following persona categories: Business travellers/professionals, Bookworms, Entertainment enthusiasts & Social influencers. So if this closely matches the persona of your website’s intended audience there may be considerations to make for these users.
What considerations need to be made for phablet users?
Ensuring your website design works seamlessly across the main device categories of desktop, tablet and mobile has been crucial for quite some time. However, with modern devices blurring the lines between these categories, it’s more important than ever to have a fully responsive website. It will need to be optimised for a vast range of screen sizes and take into account the different user needs that come with each one. Since Google Analytics currently doesn’t discriminate between smartphones and phablets, it is handy to install a custom report to track how many of your visitors use them currently and any differences in their behaviour over time. This will alert you as to when alterations need to be made. Otherwise it can be a costly exercise to fully optimise your website for screen sizes it is simply not viewed on yet.
The most significant difference with phablets is how they are physically held and interacted with compared to smaller smartphones. One handed-reach charts have been used in the past to help UX designers create websites that are comfortable to use on a mobile. The idea being that all of the main calls to action should be located within easy reach of the user’s thumb. However, with modern smartphones becoming larger it is no longer assumed that the user is only willing to hold their phone with a single hand. Studies show they will frequently use their non-dominant hand too, commonly cradling the phone or holding it with one hand and tapping with the other. Users were also observed switching between positions numerous times within a single browsing session. You can read more about this study in Steven Hoober's article.
While the data shows that users are willing to adapt the way they hold their phone for the task at hand, the device is still a portable one that may need to be checked quickly for certain tasks. A number of companies have moved their navigation to the bottom of the screen on their mobile apps to address this. Websites such as Google Maps also place certain calls to action towards the lower portion of the screen. They know their website is used primarily by people on the move who need to complete tasks as easily as possible. So, thinking about the context in which users will be viewing your website will also dictate which changes you may or may not need to make for the sake of usability.
A range of other ideas have been trialed, some with more success than others. When Apple released the iPhone 6 plus they also introduced a ‘reachability’ feature. If the user taps the home button twice the top portion of the screen is lowered within reach. However, this solution creates more steps for the user to complete a task and could be frustrating to perform numerous times in a single session.There is a belief among some that, if usage of these devices continues to grow as expected, we may see completely new navigation methods become the norm.
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