Back in Stylus: Is the ‘Phablet’ Smartphone/Tablet Hybrid Poised To Reign in 2013?


It’s time to break out the stylus . . . again. As with any technology, hardware and software advances progress in a circular fashion, yet still manage to leap forward due to innovation with the introduction of new features. Tablet computers are the new normal these days, with Microsoft announcing Surface and Apple entering the ring in 2012 by announcing its iPad Mini to compete with similar devices manufactured by companies like Samsung, Sony, Motorola and HTC. People want a device that is both powerful and small, but the smaller a device gets, the more difficult it can become to use, especially if you suffer from fat finger syndrome.

Chronicle of the Stylus

The point of the stylus is to be able to input text and annotate better than you could with either your fingers or with a virtual keyboard. It makes sense: Fingers are chubby, can obscure the screen and make it difficult to navigate and select on-screen features with precision. The ability to input text by handwriting recognition could be a more pleasant experience than the virtual keyboard, and the ability to annotate documents could be useful tool in the business world, especially with today’s mobile workforce.

Remember the first PDA (Personal Digital Assistant) released by Palm back in 1996 and the competing Handspring Visor? We had to learn a completely new way of inputting alpha-numeric characters through short-hand “graffiti” strokes with the plastic pen. People used their stylus as a scepter or sorts, a status symbol, and we marveled at possessing such an incredible device that could manage several tasks at once like your calendar of appointments and contacts all in one place.

Now, over a decade and a half later, we have added the ability to also check email, place phone calls and even send text messages. With the introduction of the world’s first smartphone back in 1997 (Ericsson was the first company to describe its GS 88 “Penelope” concept as a ‘Smart Phone’), handheld devices no longer needed the plastic pen, but now things have come full circle.

Phone + Tablet = Phablet

The HTC Flyer was the first tablet computer that brought back the stylus back in 2011, a 7-inch tablet running Android. Now, the oversized smartphones dubbed phablets, a hybrid of phones and tablets, are set to go mainstream in 2013 and prices will become more affordable to capture market share away from smartphones like iPhones, Windows Phones, Droid devices, and even BlackBerrys (are they still even around?).

One phablet to watch in 2013 is the Samsung Galaxy Note II, and the company has been betting heavily that it will change the game for the smartphone market, pouring serious money into ad campaigns for the product. Take a look at the recent ads I stumbled across this holiday weekend in Chicago O’Hare International Airport while catching my flight back to Seattle.

Samsung’s first version of the Galaxy Note was released in October 2011 with a 5.3-inch display that was a tad too big to hold in the palm of your hand, complete with a stylus. By January 2012, Samsung announced that 5 million had been sold and by August that number was closer to 10 million. While RIM only sold 7.3 million smartphone handsets worldwide in Q3 2012, Samsung reports that it has sold 5 million phablets in 60 days. When Samsung launched its Galaxy Note II on September 26, 2012 with an even bigger display of 5.55 inches, orders poured in. It only took 37 days to sell 3 million handsets and by November 25, sales had already hit 5 million. One thing is for sure, this move towards a larger screen size will surely help mobile display advertisers, who have yet to adequately address the real-estate conundrum on smaller handheld smartphones.

Maybe Steve Jobs had it all wrong when he openly mocked the plastic implement during the launch of the original iPhone, back in 2007, famously saying: “Who wants a stylus? You have to get them and put them away and then you lose them, yuck! Nobody wants a stylus.” Then again, maybe not.



  1. Forgot Apple’s Newton, the tablet that truly started it all. And was way ahead of its time and much more powerful than the silly (but cheaper and more popular) Palm Pilot.


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