Attack of the giant phones; ‘phablets’ gobbling up market share

When an HTC One isn't big enough, get an HTC One Max! (Wikimedia Commons)
When an HTC One isn’t big enough, get an HTC One Max! (Wikimedia Commons)

Huge cell phones are HUGE. And you’d better get used to them. Awkwardly-named “phablets” — a sort of phone/tablet combo gadget, with a display at 5.5 inches ore larger, are exploding in popularity.  Phablets claimed 21 percent of all U.S. smartphone sales during the first quarter of this year, nearly quadrupling their puny 6 percent share during the same period last year, according to the latest Kantar Worldpanel ComTech market share data.

A lot of this increased popularity is the result of Apple’s entry into the market, which always drags Apple fans into any new trend.  But that doesn’t explain all of it. According to Kantar, Apple iPhone 6 Plus accounts for 44 percent of this segment.

Phablets may look comical, no unlike Maxwell Smart’s shoe phone. A friend of mine who whipped out his Microsoft-powered 6-inch Nokia Lumia at dinner not long ago had us all doubled over in laughter.

But, like Maxwell Smart’s phone, phablets only look weird when you hold them up to your ear to talk on them.  Smart’s shoe looked perfectly fine on his foot, and phablets look great when you are reading web pages or watching movies with the thing on a table.

Phablets make sense, mainly because both phones and tablets don’t make sense any more. As I’m sure you know by now, the kids don’t make phone calls today.  They text, they Snapchat.  They Skype.  But they don’t really need phones. Increasingly, firms are finding ways to offer phones with no calling plan.  So who cares if a phablet looks stupid when help up to your ear? A laptop looks stupid held up to your ear, too.

On the other hand, tablets are in trouble, too. Tablet sales saw their first-ever decline in the last quarter of 2014, and even Apple’s tablets lost ground.  Some of that drop can be attributed to product cycle, but the story is bigger than that. Look around at any coffee shop. How many consumers do you see sitting their working on tablets?  The things are awkward to hold for long periods, so they don’t qualify as hand-helds. They haven’t replaced laptops or cell phones. And consumers haven’t really warmed to having a third device in their lives that needs constant recharging and carrying.  Tablets complicate. Phablets simplify.

“The younger you are the less time you spend talking and the more you spend texting and using social networks  and want to see the pictures and videos better that are used in your social network or are sent to you via text,” said John Oldshue of SaveOnPhone.com. “I thought the Iphone 6 plus was way too huge but I guess that just means I am getting older …. I guess the way things are now Apple will finally find the perfect size when the iPad mini and the iphone 6 plus finally meet in the middle in 2 or 3 years.”

The enormous growth of the overgrown phones leads to new questions.  In December, 2014, Netbiscuits predicted that phablet users would take up 25 percent of web traffic from smartphones by the early this year, according Oldshue. We’ve seen web designers rush to shrink websites so they were usable on tiny 4-inch displays.  Might we see another radical change in design, with screen space opened up again?

At any rate, get used to huge phones. In Asian markets, such as Taiwan and Hong Kong, phablets have already devoured 50% of the smartphone market. , according to Flurry Analytics. Maybe it’s time to start looking for pants with larger pockets.

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About Bob Sullivan 1137 Articles

BOB SULLIVAN is a veteran journalist and the author of four books, including the 2008 New York Times Best-Seller, Gotcha Capitalism, and the 2010 New York Times Best Seller, Stop Getting Ripped Off! His latest, The Plateau Effect, was published in 2013, and as a paperback, called Getting Unstuck in 2014. He has won the Society of Professional Journalists prestigious Public Service award, a Peabody award, and The Consumer Federation of America Betty Furness award, and been given Consumer Action’s Consumer Excellence Award.

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