The future of mobility: your sofa

The future of mobility: your sofa

23 JAN 2013

Vendors have been mucking around with screen sizes for years; now it’s time to add the biggest screen of all into the mix

Size matters. With no-one apparently able to do anything exciting on handset form factor these days, screen size is often a device’s defining feature. In the run up to the unveiling of the iPhone 5 last year, an absurd number of column inches were concerned with the prospect of the Apple device getting an extra half inch. The room for an extra row of apps was, it seems, a huge leap forward.

Fiddling around with screen sizes has played havoc with device categories. First we had the smartphone, which used to rarely exceed 4-inches; then we had the tablet, which was sufficiently larger to be considered a separate product despite usually looking like an over-sized smartphone. More recently we have seen vendors target devices in the midrange between the two, a space filled by the 7-inches of the Nexus 7 and iPad mini.

There was briefly a buzz-phrase last year: a ‘4-7-10’ strategy, which was applied to vendors looking to get a product in each of the three screen-size categories. But this segmentation didn’t remain valid for long; where, for example, would we slot in Samsung’s 5.5 inch Galaxy Note? Or Huawei’s recently-launched 6-inch Ascend Mate, which the Chinese behemoth proudly boasts is the world’s “largest-screen smartphone.” It’s a title I suspect they won’t hang onto for long. Indeed, with smartphones getting larger and tablets getting smaller it probably won’t be long before the two form factors trade places in terms of sizing.

If all this sounds silly, much of what I saw at CES in Las Vegas a few weeks ago suggests things are set to get a lot sillier still. As far as I could tell, CES is a show predominantly concerned with tellys; and there are no subtle nuances around size when it comes to tellys: bigger is always better.

There were some preposterously-sized TV sets on show, notably a 110-inch 4K monster from Samsung and the world’s largest OLED TV (56-inches) from Panasonic. Sony was more restrained, launching 55 and 65-inch versions of its 4K sets that it promised would be more affordable than its recently introduced 84-inch beast (ie: less than $25k).

But tellys are not just getting bigger, they’re also getting smarter. A key theme at CES was the drive to extend smartphone-style functionality into TVs, building-in apps, social media and the rest. Firms such as Samsung and Sony increasingly see their smart TVs as just another screen size in their consumer electronic portfolios, part of a plan to provide a fully integrated user experience from the smallest screen to the largest.

The vision is for the smartphones and tablets to become ‘companion’ devices to the big daddy telly, allowing, for example, families to watch TV together while simultaneously interacting with the programme on their personal devices in personal ways.

Whether this concept appeals will probably depend on whether you’re the type of person who likes to tweet sarcastic comments about contestants while watching X-Factor; or one of those who believes that modern technology is responsible for killing genuine human interaction. Either way, it’s going to happen.

Adding a mammoth 9-foot telly to a consumer’s growing roster of connected devices will have a big impact. And big tellys are, almost by definition, not about mobility – especially the 9-foot ones. The future of mobility, therefore, appears to be less about on-the-move and more about on-the-sofa. And that’s fine with me.

The editorial views expressed in this article are solely those of the author(s) and will not necessarily reflect the views of the GSMA, its Members or Associate Members.