The phablet-ization of the smartphone

Big 5-in.-plus smartphones make up 22% of the market; Samsung dominates

The trend toward large-touchscreen smartphones -- 5-in. and above -- reached its highest level yet in the third quarter, as they accounted for 22% of all smartphones shipped worldwide.

Galaxy Mega smartphone
The Galaxy Mega smartphone.

That means that 56 million large-screen smartphones, driven mainly by Samsung, shipped in the quarter, said research firm Canalys.

Two-thirds (66%) of the large-screen phones had a 5-in. display, while 31% had between 5-in. and 6-in. displays and 3% had 6-in or larger screens, Canalys said.

Samsung makes the 6.3-in. Galaxy Mega and the 5.7-in. Galaxy Note 3. Both run Android.

Some observers have dubbed the larger phones "phablets," because they can sometimes function as a small tablet crossed with a smartphone. Small tablets generally have a display measuring at least 7 inches, and often have no voice calling capability.

Sprint recently said it would start selling the Mega on Friday, along with the 5.9-in. HTC One, and the 5.2-in. LG G2.

Verizon Wireless is expected to start selling the 5-in. Z30 from BlackBerry in the U.S. sometime in November. The Z30 is the first smartphone that large from BlackBerry.

Apple has so far distanced itself from the larger smartphone trend, preferring to stick with a 4-in. display in the iPhone 5S and iPhone 5C released on Sept. 20.

The smaller iPhone screen hasn't hurt sales, at least in North America, where Apple is in the top position for smartphone sales, while Samsung is the leading vendor across all regions except North America. The two vendors make up 70% of the North American market, followed by LG and Nokia.

Apple is rumored to be working on a bigger iPhone 6, with a 4.8-in. display.

Nokia, meanwhile, is planning to begin sales of two 6-in. smartphones running on Windows Phone 8 before the end of year. The $339 Lumia 1320 will ship in Asia, India and Europe, and the $749 Lumia 1520 will ship in the U.S., Europe and China.

Even though vendors are clearly interested in larger smartphones, screens between 4.1-in. and 5-in. are likely to be the most popular with consumers in 2014, Canalys predicted. Those sizes offer a "balance between portability and legibility."

Large-screen smartphones over 5-inches sell the best in Asia-Pacific countries where there is a low level of PC and home broadband use and a low level of Wi-Fi network penetration. The lack of Wi-Fi limits the use of Wi-Fi tablets, which leaves an opening for Asian vendors to sell affordable large-screen smartphones, Canalys said.

"That phenomenon is less visible in other regions," Canalys said in a statement.

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

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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