Editorial by Andrew Kameka on Tuesday April 02, 2013.
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Smartphones with large screen sizes that border on the verge of being tablets have greatly increased their presence in the past two years, but these supersized "phablet" hybrid devices are nothing more than a fad, according to Flurry Analytics. While the data definitely shows that large smartphones are not as popular as "Medium" phones as Flurry describes, it's not accurate to label them as a passing trend that will disappear. It's more accurate to say that hybrids do not match the appeal of smaller phones.
Flurry is an analytics company that tracks device information through a network of apps using its tools, and the company claims to detect more than 1 billion smartphones and tablets each month. Monitoring recent stats, Flurry found that devices having a screen size ranging from 5 to 6.9 inches represent only 2 percent of it's installed base of device models. Medium smartphones with screens ranging from 3.5 to 4.9 inches, like the Apple iPhone 5 or Samsung Galaxy S III, dominate the market with 69 percent of devices. That led Flurry to conclude that larger screens are just a fad that "make up an insignificant part of the device installed base." That's not accurate for the following reasons.
Hybrids are a comparatively young breed
It's easy to call something new a "fad" that's likely to end soon, but the truth to that label is not apparent for a long time. For every confirmed fad like disco, there's a long-term survivor like hip-hop. When looking at Flurry's charts, Phablets account for 2 percent and Small Phones (less than 3.5 inches) account for 16 percent. That's because there's a huge legacy population of users with old phones. That becomes clear when looking how the percentage of active user drops to 7 percent for small phones and increases to 3 percent for Phablets. This is a comparatively young category, so you cannot draw conclusions about long-term viability based on current market share.
Trends point to more devices with 5-inch screens
Flurry's categorization of devices is based on information available today, but the number of smartphones with large screens is going to see a noticeable bump if the company revisits this data next year. Take a look at the marquee smartphones announced or released in recent months and practically all of them, with the exception of the BlackBerry Z10 and HTC One, have at least a 5-inch screen. The trend obviously points to more smartphones having big screens, and they are being marketed simply as phones with big screens, not "phablets." There's a clear attempt to normalize the large screen category as a plus rather than a niche market for people looking for hybrid devices. The greatest ally of all in this effort is the Samsung Galaxy S 4, a device with a 5-inch screen that's likely to sell tens of millions this year. That's not a fad.
Consumer preference is not permanent
Large screens have a very small market share now, but that's going to grow over the next two years. When the HTC EVO launched three years ago, detractors said a 4.3-inch screen was too big. Today, 4.3 isn't big enough for some and seen as the perfect size for others. People said the iPhone didn't need to get any bigger, but the iPhone 5 was still a blockbuster hit. Flurry says consumers prefer Medium size devices, and that's true, but that does not mean they will always hold that opinion. Even if they do, a significant portion can still be swayed to make devices with 5-inch screens a viable form factor.
Andrew is MobileBurn.com's managing editor. He is based in Miami, Florida.