Handset makers scurry to join Year of the Phablet

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Phablets may account for over 25% of all smartphones by 2017 against 11% at present. (Reuters) Phablets may account for over 25% of all smartphones by 2017 against 11% at present. (Reuters)
SummaryPhablets may account for over 25% of all smartphones by 2017 against 11% at present.

Call it phablet, phonelet, tweener or super smartphone, but the clunky mobile phone - closer in size to a tablet than the smartphone of a couple of years back - is here to stay.

A surprise hit of 2012, it is drawing in more users, more handset makers and is shaping the way we consume content.

"We expect 2013 to be the Year of the Phablet," said Neil Mawston, UK-based executive director of Strategy Analytics' global wireless practice.

While Samsung Electronics Co Ltd has blazed a trail with its once-mocked Galaxy Note devices, now other manufacturers are scurrying to catch up.

At this week's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Chinese telecommunications giants ZTE Corp and Huawei Technologies Co Ltd will launch their own. ZTE, which collaborated with Italy's designer Stefano Giovannoni for the Nubia phablet, is scheduled to launch its 5-inch Grand S, while Huawei brings out the Ascend Mate, sporting a whopping 6.1-inch screen, making it only slightly smaller than Amazon's Kindle Fire tablet.

"Users have realised that a nearly 5-inch screen smartphone isn't such a cumbersome device," said Joshua Flood, senior analyst at ABI Research in Britain. Driving the phablet's shift to the mainstream is a confluence of trends. Users prefer larger screens because they are consuming more visual content on mobile devices than before,

and using them less for voice calls - the phablet's weak spot. And as WiFi-only tablets become more popular, so has interest among commuters in devices that combine the best of both, while on the move.

According to the latest Ericsson Mobility Report, the monthly data traffic for every smartphone will rise fourfold between now and 2018 to 1,900 megabytes.

The upshot is a market for phablets that will quadruple in value to $135 billion in three years, according to Barclays. Shipments of gadgets that are 5 inches or bigger in screen size will surge by nearly nine-fold to 228 million during the same period, though estimates vary because no one can agree on where smartphones stop and phablets start.

But that's the point, some say. "I think phone size was a preconceived notion based on voice usage," said John Berns, a Singapore-based executive who works in the information technology industry. He recently upgraded his Note for the newer Note 2 and bought another for his girlfriend for Christmas. "Smaller was better until phones got smart, became visual."

The Asia-Pacific is, and

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