Over the past year, we've seen a number of new phablets -- smartphones with particularly large displays that make them look like a cross between a phone and a tablet. Despite their somewhat awkward form factor, phablets have been growing in popularity; and now, a new report from Juniper Research predicts that phablet unit sales will reach 120 million per year by 2018, compared to the 20 million phablets that were sold last year.
Ever since people began using the term phablet, there have been arguments regarding how large a phone must be for it to be classified as one. Now, it is generally accepted that a smartphone with at least a five-inch screen is a phablet.
Many smartphone manufacturers are entering the market and although the industry is most lucrative in the Far East, analysts are expecting phablets to become popular in North America as time passes. There are already a handful of mainstream phablets in North America, but the majority of the sales are coming from China and other Asian countries.
Only in The East
Phones with large displays are nothing new and depending on what screen size is required for a device to be considered a phablet, they have been around for between five and seven years. By today's standards, the first true phablets began to come onto the scene in 2011, but they were widely regarded as too large and awkward by people in the West.
While things are slowly changing due to the popularity of devices such as the Samsung Galaxy Note, Juniper Research and numerous analysts still feel that China and other Asian countries will be responsible for a large portion of the growth in the phablet market.
According to IDC, phablets were more popular in the second quarter of 2013 than tablets or portable PCs. Japan is one of the few Asian countries where phablets have yet to take over the market, but in China phablets are a very important sector of the consumer electronics industry.
Time To Enter
Analysts around the world have noted the growth in large smartphones over the past two years, and now that the phablet marketing is picking up, it seems to be a good time for Apple and other smartphone manufacturers to launch their own phablets. Apple has historically focused on smaller devices and even as people have begun to show interest in larger displays, the tech giant has not moved past a 4-inch iPhone.
We spoke with Rob Enderle, principal analyst at The Enderle Group, to see if he felt that Apple would be interested in entering the phablet market. "The problem with phablets for Apple is they cannibalize a product set," he said. "Apple wants folks to buy both a phone AND a tablet, so I think they'll move slowly on this one (and try to pretend it isn't an event)."
This may change now that Apple has a more significant presence in the Chinese smartphone market as a result of its recent deal with China Mobile. Since Chinese consumers tend to prefer larger phones, one key to Apple's success overseas may be the introduction of a large iPhone. Since December, rumors have been picking up regarding the iPhone 6 and almost all of them have suggested a new screen size of at least five inches, which may allow the device to be called a phablet.