Major handset makers go big on smartphones

Written by New York Times | Barcelona | Updated: Feb 28 2014, 01:35am hrs
Smartphones are going against one of the long-held rules in portable electronics, that smaller is better.

Year by year, computers, storage devices and music players have shed size and weight. And for decades, it has been happening with cellphones, too.

But now cellphones, and smartphones in particular, are going the way of the television: They just keep getting bigger and bigger. And people keep buying them.

The trend became even more apparent this week, as handset makers introduced a number of big-screen smartphones from five diagonal inches to more than seven inches at the Mobile World Congress trade show in Barcelona, Spain.

Samsung Electronics, Sony and the Chinese manufacturers Huawei and ZTE, among others, are all betting that consumers find images and video to be more vivid and engaging on a bigger screen, and that they may prefer to carry a larger phone instead of both a smartphone and a tablet.

The turn to bigger screens is a sharp departure from the dominant strategy of phone makers just a few years ago, when critics often and loudly mocked devices with big screens, joking that people would never buy them because they would not fit in the pockets of tight hipster jeans, or because people would not want to be seen clutching big devices to their skulls.

But Samsung, the No. 1 phone maker in the world, pushed hard on phones with bigger screens, and the effort has paid off with millions of units sold, particularly in Asia.

Samsung has said its research found that people liked bigger-screen phones because they wanted a device that was good for handwriting, drawing and sharing notes. Asian-language speakers found it easier to write characters on a device using a pen rather than


Now Samsung and other phone makers believe they will find a more receptive audience outside Asia, too, including in the United States and Europe.

The cultural difference is not much, said Lee Young-hee, head of marketing for Samsungs mobile division. Most people like the bigger display its more and more welcomed by people around the world.

Demand for big-screen phones is clearly strong. IDC, the research firm, estimates that at least 20% of all smartphones shipped last year in China, the largest smartphone market in the world, were five inches or larger. It predicts that number will balloon to 50% by 2017.

IDC also recently predicted that the growth of tablet sales would slow this year, partly because many people are gravitating toward larger phones and shifting away from smaller tablets.