Smartphones are getting bigger as tablets are getting smaller

And then they became one.
And then they became one.
Image: Reuters/Bobby Yip
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The tech world’s two most popular devices are moving in opposite directions.

Smartphones used to win praise for their compactness. Remember when Apple released its first iPhone and the world marveled at how much the company managed to pack into a moderately-sized mobile phone? But lately mobile phone makers are on a steroid kick. Virtually every mobile phone maker has either rolled out a bigger phone this year or is contemplating it. Samsung recently announced its newest Galaxy Note, which sports a 5.7 inch screen—only Samsung’s ludicrously large 6.3 inch Galaxy Mega is bigger; HTC is rumored to be releasing its 5.9 inch One Max later this month; Motorola is reportedly considering a massive smartphone release of its own; and Apple, which has yet to release a bigger smartphone—or Phablet—may finally be caving in, too.

Tablets, however, have been moving in the other direction. Better priced and more portable 7-inch screens have been eating into the larger, 10-inch tablet market for some time. Some 60% of tablet growth is expected to come from tablets of 8 inches or less this year. In January of this year, smaller-sized tablets outsold bigger ones for the first time. And in March, the smaller 7-inch panels accounted for nearly half of total tablet PC panel shipments. The trend is even truer for Apple, whose iPad mini now accounts for over 60% of the company’s tablet sales. In response, companies have been releasing smaller and smaller versions of their devices. Google recently announced its new Nexus 7, which is lighter and smaller than its last, and Microsoft is even rumored to be working on a new mini Surface.

Apple is particularly vulnerable to these opposing trends. It prioritized price point with the release of its cheaper 5C iPhones this fall, but it has yet to officially announce any sort of plans for catering to consumer preferences on phone size. If consumers are indeed tired of tiny screens, they may start shunning Apple’s offerings for, say, Samsung’s bigger phones and phablets. The company’s tablet sales could also suffer if consumers begin buying competitors’ phablets in place of rather than alongside Apple’s still popular iPad minis.

Of course, the shifting sizes of smartphones and tablets can only go so far. In theory, eventually big phones would be indistinguishable from small tablets. If that happens, we may end up toting around a single hybrid device that marries the best of both worlds.