Yesterday, Google disappeared its Nexus 7 tablet in favor of a gargantuan 6-inch phone. Today, Apple (barely) announced an iPad mini 3 that's essentially just a iPad mini 2 in goldpagne clothing. Small tablets are dying. And it's big phones that are killing them.
It shouldn't come as much of a surprise that small tablets are being snuffed out. The iPad mini fate was apparently sealed the minute Tim Cook revealed the iPhone 6 Plus in September; if you have two devices that are just an inch apart, and one of them also makes phone calls, it's pretty clear which one sticks around.
It's not that small tablets are bad devices. We enjoyed the hell out of the Retina iPad mini and the Nexus 7, not to mention a huge collection of Windows options. But tablets present a problem for the companies that make them, namely that nobody ever bothers replacing them. Your smartphone, on the other hand, gets replaced every two years (and for many of us even more frequently). That's predictable income, and lots of it.
But you know what? It's fine. Giant phones come with their own set of issues, but it's hard to argue with the benefits of having one less screen in your life. And frankly, a phone isn't just more useful than a tiny tablet; it's more fun. It has more personality. Tablets are fine and good, but they're like that moth-eaten work conference sweatshirt you wear to bed. It's comfortable and functional, but not something you'll be wear out on the weekends.
Besides, the things tablets are best-suited for are better in a big format anyway. Their future seems pretty fixated on becoming that versatile doin-stuff-for-work machine. The Surface Pro is the main example, but so is the new Nexus 9. There's a reason it has an official keyboard. Even Apple's own software demoes today showed how to do intensive photo and video editing on the fly, not just watch Netflix and play Candy Crush.
The other reason you'd reach for your tablet ahead of your phone is just plain watching stuff, and that begs for a bigger screen than 7 or 8 inches, especially if it never leaves the house. Small screens just don't get the job done—literally. You'll have that extra real estate if you want to get work done or enjoy a movie to the fullest. And don't even get me started on reading comics.
So this is how the state of handheld screens is shaping up: Phones are big. Tablets are bigger. The middle ground is dead or dying. Good. Ultimately, it's just one less thing to charge.