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5 ways the smartphone is conquering the tablet

Ben Taylor | Feb. 27, 2015
Smartphones and tablets can do a lot of the same things, but a closer look at the specs shows how tablets are falling behind.

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After nearly five years of growth, the tablet market has officially stalled. According to research firm IDC, tablet sales fell 3.2% year over year in the 2014 holiday quarter, with even bigger drops coming from market leaders Apple and Samsung.

The tablet's biggest problem? The smartphone. The tablet's older, smaller cousin has quietly started doing all of the tablet's jobs--and in some cases, the smartphone is just flat-out better. So let's run down six reasons why 2015 is a great time to trade in your old tablet for a modern, big-screen smartphone.

1. We now know the 6-inch screen is the ideal size for reading
Back in the days of 10-inch tablets and 3.5-inch smartphones, the tablet was the obvious choice for books. Sure, a tiny iPhone 3GS was more portable, but the diminutive screen was too small for everyday reading.

Swipe ahead five years, however, and the average smartphone screen size has risen from 3.5 to 5.2 inches. While that's only about a 50% increase in diagonal, it translates to nearly twice the screen real estate--a true game-changer for smartphone-equipped bookworms.

Smartphone screen size - figure by the author

A small increase in diagonal screen size can nearly double total display area.

And when you consider that the world's most popular e-readers almost all sport 6-inch screens, the smartphone is right on track to take over the tablet's reading duties.

2. All the best apps are on smartphones, not tablets
With the first wave of tablets in 2010 and 2011, manufacturers promised a parade of made-for-tablet apps, each designed to take advantage of the device's bigger screen size. Then the market realities set in. Tablets were hot, but not as hot as the mighty smartphone, which by 2012 had claimed over a billion users.

Today, there are a few hundred million tablet users, but nearly two billion smartphone owners, a market mismatch that means all the best games, apps and new ideas show up on the phone first, and the tablet (maybe) later. Add in the fact that the biggest phones look a lot like small tablets, and many mobile developers are simply upscaling their existing phone apps to fit the tablet's larger screen.

So much for special tablet apps. All the action is on the phone.

3. Smartphones have better battery life
While average battery life in smartphones has nearly doubled over the last five years, juice on the average tablet still lasts a stubborn 10 hours.

This makes sense from a technical perspective--it takes more juice to power those giant screens. But that doesn't change the fact that a 5.5-inch Galaxy phone will last over twice as long as its 7-inch Galaxy Tab counterpart. With a smartphone, you're simply getting far more juice per inch of screen real estate--and it's not close.


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