2013: The year of phablets
According to IDC, phablets now account for 30 percent of the Indian smartphones market. Which is an amazing feat for such a young category of phones.
Back when Samsung unveiled the Galaxy Note in 2011, the word "phablet" did not even exist. The supersized phone with its 5.3" screen was looked upon a niche product, a "novelty item" and a passing fad. The conventional wisdom was that any phone, which could not be operated single-handedly, would only lead to consumer frustration and inevitably flop.
Well, just over two years and three versions later, Samsung has sold over 45 million Notes. And the rate at which consumer are buying it has only accelerated - according to Wikipedia, the original version sold around 10 million units, while the follow-up Note II clocked in 30 million. The latest iteration moved over 5 million units within the first month itself.
According to the latest IDC report, the market has seen "a large influx" of large-screen smartphones. These devices generally sell at a higher price because of the need for more powerful and expensive components - the average selling price of phablets in Q3 2013 was $443, notably higher than the market average of $317 for smartphones. However, as more manufacturers jump into the phablet ring, intense competition will send the average selling price into a tailspin - the Q3 2013 ASP is already down 22.8% from the $573 mark in Q3 2012.
As Ryan Reith, Program Director with IDC's Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker, notes, "Almost all successful Android vendors have added one or more 5-7-inch phablets to their product portfolios," From the Windows Phone camp, Nokia is now onboard the phablet train with the Lumia 1320 and 1520, which both boast 5.9" screens. In fact, there have been close to 20 new phablet launches by around 15 manufacturers, in just the last six months. Says Reith, "In 3Q13, phablet shipments accounted for 21% of the smartphone market, up from just 3% a year ago. We believe the absence of a large-screen device may have contributed to Apple's inability to grow share in the third quarter."
And those bigger screens naturally lead to a better online experience. The Connected Intelligence report by NPD Group reveals data consumption on smartphones with 4.5" or larger screens is 44 percent higher than on smaller phones. It went up by 19 percent Q3 2012, as compared to the same period in 2012. Says John Buffone, director of devices for Connected Intelligence, "Even though today larger screens represent a smaller part of the market, their relevance is increasing as consumers look for more ways to interact with content while on the go." The increased data usage is coming from longer time spent on social media site, navigation and streaming videos. The most popular apps being used on big phones are Facebook, Google Maps and YouTube.
Meanwhile, what construes a phablet is itself evolving. Back when iPhones had 3.5" displays and Android phones with 4.3" screens were considered big, anything around 5" would have been perceived as "massive", and a prime candidate for the phablet crown. However, in 2013, most premium smartphones – except the iPhone – shipped with 5" displays, making it the new normal.
Phablets, meanwhile, nudged upwards and took on more screen estate – the Note series, for instance, went up from 5.3" to 5.5" to 5.7". Samsung also upped the ante with the 6.3" Galaxy Mega. However, Sony recently snatched away the title for the biggest phablet in the market, when it launched the 6.4" Xperia Z Ultra. At this rate, in 2014, we
expect phablets will hover close to the 7" mark, which is currently the domain of "mini tablets". When that happens, the main difference between a phablet and a tablet would be a thinner, or even non-existent, bezel. And the phone features. In fact, phablets are likely to push 7" tablets out of the market completely. Various studies have indicated that the 8" form factor will become the sweet spot for tablets – Apple has already made its presence felt in this size with the 7.9" iPad Mini.
Interestingly, phablets have been a huge hit in Asia, while slow to take off in the USA. Various theories have been proposed for this variance in popularity, including longer commute times and dependence on public transport - which makes phablets a more desirable option for watching videos, playing games or reading ebooks. Economic disparity is another important factor. A phablet obviates the need to buy separate phone and tablet - it becomes one device that does "good enough" double duty. As Tim Bajarin, the president of market intelligence firm, Creative Strategies Inc, notes in his column on Time.com, "The obvious upside if you go with a phablet and use it as both a smartphone and mini-tablet, is that it knock out the expense of buying a standalone tablet to complement your smartphone."
Top Phablets of 2013
- HTC One Maxx – The bigger brother of one of the most beautiful phones ever made, the HTC One. Sports a 5.9", 1080p screen. Also comes with a fingerprint scanner – but is rather dodgy compared to that on the iPhone.
- Samsung Galaxy Mega –It does not have the best display, nor is it among the fastest around. Think of it as a great phablet on a budget. Come in two display sizes – 5.8" and 6.3".
- Samsung Note 3 – Upholding the fine track record set by the previous two Notes. Comes with a 5.7" display, an industry-new 3GB RAM (others have 2GB max), sports USB 3.0. And yes, the signature S-Pen pulls off more gimmicks than before.
- Oppo N1 – Currently available in China, but global expansion is on the cards. Unique features such as a rotating camera lens and a touch sensitive rear panel. Sports a 5.9" 1080p display.
- Sony Xperia Z Ultra – The "only waterproof Full HD" phablet. Svelte, "omnibalance design", top notch specs and the biggest display on a phablet – 6.4". However, a mediocre camera, lack of flash and its huge size might prove to be a deterrent to all but the most hardcore phablet fans.
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