A bigger iPhone could push phablet explosion

Big smartphones with screens larger than 5.5-in. will make up nearly a third of the entire smartphone market in 2018, IDC said.

Big smartphones with screens larger than 5.5-in. are growing so popular that they will make up nearly a third of the entire smartphone market in 2018, IDC said Thursday.

Sometimes called "phablets," these big smartphones are expected to make up 14% of the market in all of 2014, IDC said, then reach 32.2% in 2018.

The trend toward bigger screens has been under way for two years and even Apple is expected to launch its next iPhone on Sept. 9 with a larger screen, reportedly 4.7-in., up from the current 4-in. display in the iPhone 5S. A rumored second iPhone model could be as large as 5.5-in. to put it in the phablet category that IDC monitors.

Kantar WorldPanel surveyed 20,000 smartphone customers for their preferences in smartphones in early 2014 and found that screen size was the biggest issue of importance after 4G/LTE capability.

IDC said Apple's move toward larger smartphones and the pent-up demand for an upsized iPhone gives Apple the "ability to drive replacement cycles in mature markets [like the U.S.], despite the slower growth seen in recent quarters."

Growth in smartphones has been slowing in the U.S. and other developed countries. IDC said the most successful vendors in coming years will keep a presence in developed countries but also invest in sales in less-developed nations.

In fact, IDC described the 2014 growth rate for smartphones in mature markets at just 4.9%, well behind the 32.4% rate for emerging markets. Overall, IDC said Thursday that 1.25 billion smartphones will ship this year, up 23.8% from the 1.01 billion shipped in 2013. Of that total, emerging markets will account for 920.8 million smartphones, or 73.5% of the total.

Google Android is expected to run on 88.4% of all smartphones globally for 2014, partly because more than 150 handset makers produce Android devices.

"The lack of constraints around hardware and software specifications [with Android] has helped bring to market many low-cost products, a lot of which could be considered borderline junk," said Ryan Reith, an IDC analyst, in a statement. He noted that Google's recent creation of its Android One concept will set standards for manufacturers to follow, which could change that trend.

In its latest forecast, IDC didn't publicly break out the forecast share for different operating systems as it did in May.

Earlier in August, IDC said Android phones in the second quarter comprised 84.7% of the 301 million smartphones shipped, while Apple's iPhone made up 11.7% and Windows Phone made up 2.5%.

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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