Apple's iPhone 6 Plus: Big enough to crush iPad sales

Apple's amazing quarter proves yet again that people want phablets, not tablets.

iPhone 6 Plus
Credit: Apple

I'm a big fan of phablets, and based on Apple's best-ever fourth quarter results, so are a whole lot of other people. While many observers have whined that the iPhone 6 Plus is comically large, too big to carry around and use comfortably, my biggest complaint about the device was that I didn't think it was quite big enough to replace a real tablet.

Apparently, we were all wrong. The iPhone 6 Plus—along with its companion iPhone 6—sold like gangbusters in the last quarter of 2014, so much so that the device seems to have taken significant market share away from Apple's own iPad, which suffered yet another sales decline:

  • The company sold 74.5 million iPhones, a whopping 23.4 million more than the same quarter last year.
  • The company sold 21.4 million iPads, a hefty drop of 4.6 million compared to the last quarter of 2013.

Apple CEO Tim Cook wouldn't break down those numbers, but he did say the iPhone 6 was the most popular iPhone model. And he defended the iPad, claiming high rates for first-time buyers and customer satisfaction.

Small is no longer beautiful

Apple doesn't break out iPad sales by size, either, but I suspect that the biggest part of the iPad's nosedive comes from the iPad Mini models. As I keep saying (see below), small tablets just don't have a big future in a world of giant smartphones. 

And I'm convinced that smartphones will keep getting bigger, and the market share of tablets will continue to shrink. There may be some residual strength in larger-sized tablets (I'm still waiting for Apple's rumored "MaxiPad" tablet with a 12.9-inch screen, but I'm no longer holding my breath), but the trend is clearly toward a single device that includes phone functions and a screen big enough to be useful for a wide variety of applications.

IDC announced this week that "worldwide tablet shipments recorded a year-over-year decline for the first time since the market's inception in 2010." The report stated that "cannibalization at the bottom from the iPhone and at the top from the Mac appear to be a serious issue for the iPad."

Not just Apple

And that trend goes way beyond Apple's top-of-the-line products. And according to Juniper Research's whitepaper dubbed One Screen To Rule Them All, "with steady increases in smartphone screen sizes, many flagship smartphones are likely to be phablets by default within 2 or 3 years… [and] Consumers with phablets will be less likely to buy smaller-screened tablets... Juniper expects this trend to slow tablet adoption in markets where consumers already do most computing on smartphones, such as China."

In my view, devices like the iPhone 6 Plus still aren't quite big enough to do the job of a tablet, but they are clearly a step in that direction for millions of people around the world. I expect just about every mobile device maker to do their best to extend that journey more and bigger tablets over time.

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