No. Not a joke. And not a set-up for a joke.

Two years ago, in examining the leading-indicator values and expectations of the then-nascent "tablet" category, we commented that consumer values dealing with tablets and telecommunications seemed to be criss-crossing, the result being tablet attribute, benefit, and values fusing with something that let you make a call. That's the nice thing about real loyalty metrics. They're leading-indicators, meaning signs of what's going to happen in the next 12 to 18 months.

Anyway, as the tablet category was pretty much only the iPad back then, we called the combination of technologies a "MID," a mobile internet device, or more casually a "tweener," something between technologies. There weren't many of them though. In early 2010 Dell introduced the Streak, but a year later only had a 3% share of the market (versus iPad's 84%), and last year pulled their tablet – phone from its online stores.

But what a difference a year makes. Those values we talked about two years ago have – according to the 2012 Customer Loyalty Engagement Index – created heightened tweener blips on our loyalty-engagement radar screen. This serendipity is in time with Samsung's Galaxy Note 10, a combination mobile phone, tablet, and digital notepad, which includes Samsung's S Pen stylus for drawing, note-taking, and highlighting. Cool combo, huh!?

But consumers have high expectations regarding the size of their devices. Will it comfortably fit into my pants pocket? Or even a jacket pocket? Or a reasonably-sized pocketbook? Or am I walking around holding it all the time? What does it feel like to hold? Or when I make a call? The new Samsung device is big. It's 5.3-inches diagonal, halfway between the Kindle Fire and an iPhone, and is currently being referred to as a "phablet" – half-Android phone and half-Android tablet.

So here we are, back where we were two years ago. The "phablet" category is too new and too small for us to track, but the way things are going with customer expectations and brand technology, perhaps next year. In the meantime, here's how customers rank their tablets:

  1. Apple
  2. Amazon
  3. Samsung
  4. Barnes & Noble
  5. Asus
  6. Sony
  7. Dell
  8. Lenova
  9. Toshiba
  10. Blackberry
  11. Kobo

Questions abound. Which values will supersede others? Smartphones, tablets, or notepads? Does size really matter? Will "phablets" become a real category at all? Will consumers flock to this new configuration?

Three sure things come though: First, consumer expectations will continue to grow, especially when it comes to fusing technologies that have previously delighted them. Second, predictive loyalty and engagement assessments can help to answer those questions, and quite specifically at the early stage. And, third, you want those answers, because it prevents brands from confusing the art of possibility with the art of profitability.

Because when it comes to your brand, one thing you never want it to be is a punch line.