This week's Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, has provided new confirmation of the biggest trend in mobile computing - the inexorable growth in handset size as smartphones increasingly morph into big-screen phablets. Faithful TechWatch readers -- Hi, Mom! -- will know that I'm a big propronent of smartphones with "comically large screens," as one former colleague put it. But even I didn't expect the trend to gain so much momentum so fast.
According to the Times, phablets are begining to bite into the growth of tablets, as more and more users decide a big smartphone can do the work of both devices. Research firm IDC says tablet growth will "remain impressive," but is already receding from its recent peaks, which may "indicate a significant slowing of the overall market." IDC predicts phablets (devices with screens bigger than 5 inches) will account for more than 30% of smartphone sales in China this year, topping 50% by 2017.
How big is too big?
The only remaining question? How big can phablets get? Some folks seem to think 5-plus inches is plenty big, and even that's a huge jump from the iPhone 5s' puny 4-inch screen. But we're increasingly seeing models with even bigger displays, like the 5.7-inch Samsung Galaxy Note 3, the 5.9-inch LG Optimus G Pro 2, the 6-inch ZTE Grand Memo II, and Huawei's humongous 7-inch MediaPad X1. That's the size of many full-on tablets, but it's also a phone.
The U.S. is actually behind the curve on phablets. NPD says phablets (defined as devices with screens at least 5.3 inches) accounted for only 4% of the domestic market in the last quarter of 2013. But if Apple delivers a rumored iPhone phablet later this year, that could change in a hurry.
As I've noted before, I'm certainly hoping it does. My iPhone 5 seems to be shrinking before my very eyes by comparison, and if Apple doesn't come out with a "full-size" phone soon, I may be forced to look elsewhere for the phablet of my dreams.