March of the phablets - Apple and others expected to push the tablet wannabes in 2014

by David Needle

January 9 2014

Samsung's Galaxy Note line started the phablet frenzy.
Samsung's Galaxy Note line started the phablet frenzy.

Phablets, those over-sized smartphones with tablet features, were ridiculed by some when they burst on the scene a few years ago, specifically Samsung’s Galaxy Note. 

But new models and millions of unit sales later, Samsung’s gamble looks like a much safer bet. In fact, going forward it’s bigger issue will likely be battling competitors and much less pitching the concept.

Bob O’Donnell founder and Chief Analyst of TECHnalysis Research is very bullish on phablet’s potential.

O’Donnell predicts worldwide phablet shipments will outpace shipments of small (8-inch and under) tablets in 2014.

“The biggest evolution the tech industry will see in 2014 will be the transition to larger-sized phones and the resulting impact it will have on other types of devices, including tablets, PCs and wearables, as well as the types of applications created for those devices.”

The main reason for O’Donnell’s optimism is the utility phablets offer as far as offering both the media consumption and creation features of a tablet and the communications of a phone.

“The smaller tablets are for the most part all WiFi only and they’re still too big to carry around all the time,” O’Donnell said in an interview with TabTimes. “A phablet, you stick it in your pocket and it’s got a 3G or 4G radio in there so you’re always connected.

“The other thing is carriers are subsidizing the cost so it’s less expensive for the end user to buy.”

David Sovie, managing director of the Communications, Media and Technology group at consulting firm Accenture, also thinks this will be a big year for phablets.
“Watch for phablet stories about falling screen prices, longer battery life, and the growing importance of multimedia viewing,” he said in a recent report.

Apple ready to join the phablet fray?

There has been talk for a while that Apple would release a phablet, in fact many observers expected Apple’s newest iPhone 5C and 5S models to sport bigger screens than the earlier iPhone, but that didn’t happen.

O’Donnell thinks the next iPhone will bump up to 5- or 5.2-inches (some phablets sport 6-inch screens) because Apple recognizes users want choice and larger screen phones are flooding the market.

“In the U.S. people knocked the phablet idea because they thought it was ridiculous to hold a large phone to your face, but they’re missing the point,” said O’Donnnell. “A lot of people, particularly the younger generation, only occasionally use these devices to make phone calls. Research shows over 80% of the use is for non-voice applications like texting and apps.”

One issue that makes phablets a bit hard to market is that vendor’s hate the name and few, if any, promote the devices as phablets, preferring instead to promote them as smartphones with larger screens. Last November Samsung floated fonblet as an alternative, but that hardly rolls pleasantly off the tongue and went nowhere.

O’Donnell agrees we may see a change.

“It’s true, no one likes the name phablet. The industry needs a more clever name.” 

(For news, trends and insights about the the tablet market, sign up for the free TabTimes Daily newsletter)

David Needle is Editor of TabTimes and based in Silicon Valley
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