Is 2014 the Year of the Phablet?


If research firm IDC is correct, 2014 could become the year of the “phablet.”

IDC defines phablets as smartphones with screens exceeding 5.5 inches, a category that encompasses a growing number of devices. Samsung in particular has led the phablet charge, seeing it as a competitive differentiator from Apple, which has (so far) resolved to keep the iPhone’s screen at no more than four inches diagonal.

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IDC believes phablets’ share of the smartphone market increased to 10.3 percent in the first quarter of the year (for a total of 30.1 million units shipped), negatively impacting the growth of tablets.

“Two major issues are causing the tablet market to slow down. First, consumers are keeping their tablets, especially higher-cost models from major vendors, far longer than originally anticipated. And when they do buy a new one they are often passing their existing tablet off to another member of the family,” Tom Mainelli, Program Vice President of Devices & Displays at IDC, wrote in a statement accompanying the numbers. “Second, the rise of phablets—smartphones with 5.5-inch and larger screens—are causing many people to second-guess tablet purchases as the larger screens on these phones are often adequate for tasks once reserved for tablets.”

If IDC’s numbers are accurate, they’re much more positive than the estimates published last year by analytics firm Flurry, which placed phablets’ market-share at a mere 2 percent. Given the relative newness of the category, however, a burst of rapid growth is perhaps not unreasonable; and if Apple makes good on rumors (however vague) that it will launch a 5.5-inch iPhone later this year, that growth could multiply.

For developers already confronting a fragmented mobile-device environment, and all the aggravation that comes with ensuring an app can run on various screens (and resolutions) across different operating systems, the rise of phablets could present a good reason for tearing out a little more hair. Fortunately, Android and other platforms have become more adept at providing development environments capable of optimizing for different screen sizes.

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Image: Samsung