Phablet Avalanche

In the middle of last year, this market research company published a report (RR-TWEEN-12) on top-end smartphones suggesting a possible new segmentation within the mobile device market. Phablets, or larger-than-usual smartphones, are those measuring between 4.6 and 6.5 inches diagonally across the touchscreen. Some may point back to Dell's attempt at a larger smartphone, the Dell Streak. Most people, however, will consider Samsung's mammoth Galaxy Note to have been the first successful phablet device. Despite its success, upon the Note's release, many people criticized its bulging dimensions and believed that only travelling businesspeople/professionals and artistic/designer types would be drawn to the new device.

Most people will notice a recurring theme for smartphone launches at CES this year. They're rather big! Sony recently introduced its new flagship device, the Xperia Z. This new phablet has a 5 inch full-touchscreen display and an impressive 13 megapixel camera. Huawei revealed two new phablet releases at CES this week, the Ascend D2 and the Mate, featuring 5 and 6.1 inch touchscreens, respectively. Additionally, last year HTC released an update of its latest phablet, the HTC One X +. Samsung also increased the screen size on its Galaxy Note II late last year.

In short, people are watching a greater number of videos, reading more digital content (be it newspaper subscriptions or general Internet browsing), and playing more games on their smartphones. A larger screen enhances these user experiences, making the small increase in device dimensions worthwhile.

The question on everyone's lips must be: what has triggered this phablet avalanche?

Over the course of 2012, consumer perceptions have changed. In my opinion, one of the biggest influencers was the release of Samsung's Galaxy SIII smartphone. This device had a significant 4.8 inch touchscreen. Using the Galaxy SIII made people realize that a larger device would be less cumbersome to handle and add significantly to the user experience of the device. 2013 will become the year of the phablet-we will probably see all the major mobile OEMs introducing a phablet model.

ABI Research projected that almost 83 million phablets were shipped in 2012, an increase of 4,504% from 2011. A large portion of these shipments can be attributed to the Samsung Galaxy S3. ABI Research projects that more than 150 million phablets will be shipped in 2013. This will account for 18% of all smartphone shipments. The bulk of phablets will be shipped in the 4.6 to 5 inch screen category; we anticipate that four out of every five phablets shipped will be in the mentioned segment. Before this insight begins to brainwash you into buying a phablet, we still believe these larger hybrids of smartphone and media tablet will not take over the entire smartphone ecosystem. The forecast is for phablet shipments to grow gradually from 2014 onwards, and only around 25% of smartphones shipments in 2018 will be of the phablet genre (providing the dimensions do not change again).

Phablets and smaller tablets are competing with each other; however, this is not such a big deal at the moment. The tablet market is growing at a tremendous pace and tablet manufacturers aren't too concerned about phablets. Nevertheless, in 1 to 2 years, consumers will be making a trade-off between a phablet, e.g., Samsung's latest Galaxy Note, and a smaller media tablet, e.g., Google's Nexus 7 or Amazon's Kindle Fire. An interesting question is when Apple will join the phablet party. I think we will see something late 2013.