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Smartphones and Tablets – is there a difference?

If 2010 was the year of mobile, as I mentioned in my 2011 mobile predictions last month, 2011 is the year of the tablet.  With over 50 tablets announced at CES just a few weeks ago, and several of the announced tablets are beginning to hit the market.  With iPad 2 rumors flying about and geeks everywhere chomping at the bit for Android Honeycomb (version 3.0) it’s hard to read any mobile or tech press without hearing about tablets.

But what is a tablet?  You can see on the image below, that there is not a clear line between phones and tablets.  Unofficially, the move from a smartphone to a tablet happens at about 5”, but this is a very arbitrary line. 

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Driod Eris (3.2”), iPhone 4 (3.5”), Evo (4.3”), Dell Streak (5”), Galaxy Tab (7”), iPad (9.7”)

But phones and tablets are clearly different.  The two most obvious differences between a smartphone and a tablet are 1) the ability to easily make phone calls and 2) a tablet doesn’t fit in your pocket.  While I’ve certainly argued with co-workers in our Cleveland office if the Evo/Droid X is too big for your pocket and to comfortably make phone calls, I still believe it is a phone.  Tablets are less defined by their exact size and more defined by their function.  More specifically I believe a tablet can be separated from phones by where and how they are used, and even who can afford them.

Tablets are excellent multimedia devices for reading books, looking at photos and watching videos.  They are engaging devices for demonstrations and allow for viewing by two or more people in a way that is very different than on a phone.  Despite the tremendous adoption of the iPad over the last year, from my experience, they are currently less of a general consumer device and more of a business/luxury device.   While we have done app development for a number of consumer-focused iPhone and Android apps, all of Circle44’s tablet apps have been business focused and I can’t think of even one legitimate conversation about building a consumer app primarily for the iPad (we have talked about extending current iPhone apps to the iPad).

So is there a difference between a phone and a tablet?  Yes.  The large screen of a tablet (especially a 10” tablet) make it a compelling device for sales, training and demonstrations in a way that simply isn’t possible with a smartphone.  If you are thinking about an iPad app (or Android tablet app) in 2011, think about who your end user really is and how they would use the app day-to-day.  If your user is a sales force or technicians in the field, a tablet app is a great way to empower your team.

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