The pressure is on Apple to produce an iPhone with a 5-in. or larger display, since the so-called "phablet" segment of the mobile market grew by 369% in the first quarter and represented 34% of all smartphones shipped.
"The trend is unmistakably toward larger-screen handsets at the high end of the market," said Canalys analyst Jessica Kwee.
Samsung is in the lead. In the first quarter, it accounted for 44% of sales of devices with screens 5 in. and larger; it also sold 53% of all smartphones with screens of 5.5 in. or larger.
Lenovo, Huawei, LG Electronics and Sony have also shipped significant volumes of larger smartphones.
A phablet is a smartphone with a larger screen, somewhere between the size of a mobile phone and a tablet.
In a statement, Kwee noted that "consumers now expect high-end devices to have large displays, and Apple's absence in this market will clearly not last long." Apple's latest iPhone, the 5S, has a 4-in. display, but the company is widely expected to offer larger displays in its next-generation iPhone, which is expected to be announced in June.
Of the more expensive smartphones -- those that had price tags of $500 or more (unlocked) -- 47% had displays that were 5-in. or larger. Of the remaining high-end smartphones, 87% were iPhones.
"Apple plainly needs a larger-screen smartphone to remain competitive," Kwee added.
Canalys also reported that the four BRIC countries -- Brazil, Russia, India and China -- accounted for 44% of the global total of smartphone shipments, which reached 279.4 million units in the first quarter. As a result of demographic trends of the past three decades, the BRIC countries are known for having large numbers of young adults -- and that makes them prime smartphone markets.
For the first time, all four BRIC countries ranked among the top 10 smartphone markets.
China is the world's largest smartphone market, accounting for 35% of all shipments in the first quarter. In contrast, just 12% of global sales were in the U.S.
Globally, Samsung was the largest smartphone vendor with a 31% share, besting Apple, which was second, at 16%. Five of the top 10 vendors were from China: Huawei (No. 3), Lenovo (No. 4), Xiaomi (No. 6), Yulong (No. 8) and ZTE (No. 9).
Android devices had market share of 81%, followed by the iPhone at 16% and Windows Phone devices at 3%.
This article, "With Big Growth in 5-in.-plus Smartphones, Where's Apple?," was originally published on Computerworld.com.
Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen, or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.