“Phablets” have been tipped to be the biggest gadget of 2013 — touchscreen gadgets mid-way between iPad-style tablets and smartphones.
Several companies are expected to unveil five-inch phones at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show — and others will show off 6in devices, nearly as big as Amazon’s Kindle Fire.
Analysts expect the mid-sized devices to be a hit.
“We expect 2013 to be the Year of the Phablet,” said Neil Mawston, UK-based executive director of Strategy Analytics’ global wireless practice.
Samsung’s Galaxy Note II, unveiled at Berlin’s IFA trade show, has been a surprise hit, selling 5m units — despite scepticism from tech pundits.
This week, Chinese telecommunications giants ZTE and Huawei will show off 5in-plus Android tablets — with other manufacturers expected to follow suit.
ZTE, which collaborated with Italy’s designer Stefano Giovannoni for the Nubia phablet, is scheduled to launch its 5in Grand S, while Huawei brings out the Ascend Mate, sporting a whopping 6.1in screen, making it only slightly smaller than Amazon’s Kindle Fire tablet.
“Users have realised that a nearly 5in screen smartphone isn’t such a cumbersome device,” said Joshua Flood, senior analyst at ABI Research in Britain.
The era of the smartphone is rapidly becoming a post-smartphone era, a key tech industry analyst said.
Shawn DuBravac, chief economist at the Consumer Electronics Association, told a gathering that the smartphone has become so successful it is become a hub for people’s digital lives, and less of a communications device.
“I think we are entering a post-smartphone era,” he told journalists.
He said 65% of time spent on smartphones now is on “non-communication activities,” such as apps for health, entertainment or other activities.
“We have moved away not only from telephony but from communications being the primary part of these devices,” he said.
“So it is not just a communications devices, it is a hardware hub around which people build services… the smartphone is becoming the viewfinder for your digital life.”
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 €100bn in three years, according to Barclays. Shipments of gadgets that are 5in or bigger in screen size will surge by nearly nine-fold to 228m during the same period, though estimates vary because no one can agree on where smartphones stop and phablets start.
Another trend is the high-density screens which are being developed for smartphones, tablets, computers and bigger devices such as televisions.
“This has implications for the web generally,” he said.
Because people have higher-quality screens, “We are going to demand high resolution images, and that will have an impact on a variety of internet services.
“We see it happening at the smartphone level. But this is a shift that is happening across all screens.”
Still, DuBravac said the so-called ultra-HD televisions touted by some makers has been slow to catch on because of high costs.
“We are not expecting this to be a technology that ramps very quickly.”
Samsung has bet big on bigger and been a big beneficiary: its updated Galaxy Note has a 5.5in screen and its flagship Galaxy S3 — the best-selling smartphone in the third quarter of 2012 — has a screen that puts it in the phablet category for some analysts.
Samsung accounted for around three quarters of all phablets shipped last year, according to Barclays’ Taipei-based analyst Dale Gai.