The size of smartphones has been growing and growing over the last few years and the age when smaller devices were seen as more desirable is now long behind us. Many manufacturers have launched handsets which have displays in excess of 5-inches and a new category of smartphone, the ‘phablet’, has emerged.
However, recent figures suggest that these devices may not be as popular as is widely perceived. Research by Flurry, a firm which gathers data on consumer trends on behalf of app developers, suggests that the majority of smartphone use is carried out using handsets that have displays of a smaller size.
Covering several aspects of how smartphones are used, the most interesting point that can be gleaned from the data is that 70% of Android usage comes from handsets that have displays between 3.5-inches and 4.9-inches in size. This encapsulates a huge number of devices ranging from the likes of the HTC One V with its 3.7-inch screen, up to the Samsung Galaxy S III with its, 4.8-inch display.
Conversely, only 7% of usage comes from Android handsets with displays that exceed that 4.9-inch figure, a statistic which seems surprising considering the high profile and degree of mainstream acceptance that phablets have recently gained.
While there is no strict definition of what places a handset in the phablet category, it is widely said that a screen in excess of 5-inches is necessary for qualification. When we recently reviewed the Sony Xperia Z we steered clear of defining that device as a phablet even though its 5-inch display pushes very close to the larger category. However, Samsung’s Galaxy Note and Note 2 (with 5.3-inch and 5.5-inch displays respectively) are widely accepted as phablets, with many considering them to almost define that category of smartphone.
It’s worth noting that Flurry’s figures refute this categorisation and put smartphones with 5-inch displays in the phablet category. If some of these devices have been counted as phablets when many would not consider them as such it may be the case that even more usage is coming from handsets with ‘normal’ displays.
Either way, the figures are a little surprising since phablets have become so popular amongst the smartphone buying public of late. Samsung has claimed that more than five million of its Galaxy Note 2 devices were sold by the end of 2012, an incredible figure considering that the handset was only launched in September of that year.
The original Galaxy Note was widely thought of as freakishly large when it launched a year earlier but sold well enough to make Samsung and other manufacturers realise that a new category of handset had opened up. Whilst certainly not the first phablet device, the success of the Galaxy Note likely led to other firms such as LG and HTC launching similarly sized smartphones.
However, the Flurry figures don’t take into account that many of the handsets from which the data is drawn are likely to be older devices launched in an age when it was de rigueur for smartphones to have less expansive displays. It was only eighteen months ago that the Galaxy Note emerged and changed the landscape of the smartphone market, so many people who bought Android devices before this could still be tied to two-year contracts.
If the same research is undertaken in a couple of years time we may see a big change in the level of phablet usage as people migrate to the larger devices when their contracts are up. Some industry commentators have suggested that the Flurry figures point towards larger devices being merely a blip in the evolution of smartphones and that handsets with displays in the region of 4-inches will eventually re-emerge as prevalent.
However, we think this is more indicative of the fact that even if a certain handset is selling by the million and is widely desired by consumers, there are many people who are still tied into contracts and stuck with an older device for the time being. Over time however, phablets could well gain more usage as their high-profile in the smartphone world continues to translate into sales.