Seoul - Samsung Electronics is seeking to dazzle followers of the phablet with bigger screens in its attempt to fence off a segment of smartphones once mocked for their girth and size.
Phablets, a cross between a phone and a tablet, have been on a roll since late 2011 as tech-savvy consumers, particularly in Asia, devote more time to browsing data-heavy web pages and downloading media content. Even Samsung’s flagship Galaxy S4 smartphone, which was released in April, has a 5-inch screen, which puts it squarely in the phablet category for some analysts.
Yesterday Samsung kicked off global sales of its latest Galaxy Note 3 smartphone in Seoul. The phablet, which boasts a 5.7-inch screen and costs $990 (R9 770) in South Korea without a carrier contract, will be available in 140 nations by next month.
Analysts say the medium-term outlook for phablets is good, but their price and the lure of their smaller, more portable cousins will keep a lid on consumer enthusiasm.
Canalys, a Singapore-based research firm, expects smartphones with screens of between 5.1 inches and 6 inches to make up 6 percent of the market this year. It estimates overall global shipments of 993 million smartphones this year.
“We’re certainly seeing a shift for large-screen phones,” Canalys analyst Rachel Lashford said, but she added that more than 90 percent of demand was for devices with screens of less than 5 inches.
“We would need to see devices at lower price points and from a much wider range of vendors, including Apple, to go beyond these forecasts.”
The growing popularity of phablets has galvanised Western names into action. Google’s Motorola unit recently launched a 5-inch Droid Ultra. Even Apple, which had stuck to a 3.5 inch screen for its iPhone since its 2007 debut, was exploring offering iPhones with larger screens after taking the iPhone 5 up to 4 inches, four insiders have said.
Samsung’s domestic rival LG Electronics plans to launch its 5.2-inch Vu 3 tomorrow.
Driving the phablet’s shift to the mainstream is a confluence of trends. Users prefer larger screens because they are consuming more visual content on mobile devices than before, and using them less for voice calls.
“We noticed that people were carrying more than three devices on average, such as phones, music players and gaming machines, and we thought people may want just one device that can do it all,” Lee Young-hee, Samsung’s executive vice-president of marketing, said recently.
To increase the appeal of its phablets, the company has introduced accessories such as the Galaxy Gear smartwatch. The device allows users to make calls, display messages, record videos and snap photos while the user’s phone stays in the pocket or handbag. – Reuters