App Design for Phablets

Phablets have been around for a few years, but with Apple joining the fray, the phablet could be officially in.

You’ve surely heard about the iPhone 6 Plus by now, and if so, you probably know that with a display of 5.5″ it represents Apple’s expansion into the world of larger phones (also known as phablets, a mixture of the words “phone” and “tablet”). While those from the Android camp would claim that Apple is simply playing catch up (and there could be some validity to that), the truth is that Apple can make many things more popular simply because it’s Apple, whether or not that’s fair. But, all that aside, the most important thing at the end of the day is that there are now phablets running both iOS and Android, the two most dominant mobile operating systems on the market. In light of this new-found harmony, we’re going to make a few predictions about how app design might change going forward.

Splitscreen will continue to be refined

Splitscreen multitasking has been around on phablets since Samsung introduced it in 2012 with the Galaxy Note 2. With that said, it wasn’t perfect, and it was limited to certain apps. So there’s definitely room for improvement when it comes to splitscreen on phablets, and it doesn’t have to be limited to using half of the screen for one app and the other half for another. Instead, one part of the screen can give certain functionality within the app and the other part can give different functionality (for example, one part displays a menu and the other, the content). Apple’s updated software development kit allows for different screen sizes to render apps differently, basically giving room for splitscreen functionality.

Navigation could move down, or change completely

Phablets are difficult to use with one hand, and when an app’s functionality relies on a navigation system that lies at the top of the screen, then one-handed use is out of the question. But, if the navigation elements are moved to the bottom of the screen, then maybe — just maybe — users can semi-comfortably reach them in order to get around the app. It’s also possible, though, that traditional navigation systems will be replaced by something completely different (such as a swiping system, with swipes from different sides of the screen performing unique navigation actions within the app). The bottom line is that navigation systems that worked on a 4″ screen probably won’t cater extremely well to the user experience on a 6″ device.

Larger design patterns could become the norm

If the phablet trend continues, designers will begin to design specifically for larger displays, probably at the expense of the smaller legacy smartphones, as nothing can ever be optimized for every single device out there. Another interesting thing to note is that iPhone users skew older, so as more elderly people potentially buy the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, designers would be smart to keep the older demographic in mind, which could lead to larger and easier-to-see elements within apps.
We could be completely wrong, or slightly off, or right on. Let us know what we missed or what you think in the comment section below.

Michael Braun
Michael Braun
Affectionately referred to around the office as the "Silver Fox," Michael's silvery sheen reflects his UX wisdom and design knowledge. He's also a big Brewers fan. Feel free to email him with any questions related to UX design.