Handset makers scurry to join Year of the Phablet


"Zopo's primary focus is now on phablets," said Deshpande. Even Samsung is pushing its own creation downmarket: In Las Vegas it will unveil the Galaxy Grand, a 5-inch device that lacks some of the resolution and muscle of its bigger brethren but will be aimed at markets like India. There is a version offering a dual SIM slot, a popular feature for those wanting to arbitrage cheaper call and data plans. As phablets slide into the mainstream, handset makers are trying to find ways of differentiating. As well as hiring Italian designer Giovannoni better known for his minimalist, sleek bathrooms, ZTE also came up with an onscreen keypad that inclines to one side of the screen, depending on whether the user is left- or right-handed.

Samsung, however, not only has first mover advantage, it can also build on its expertise in display.

Barclay's Gai says Samsung is expected to introduce a thinner, unbreakable AMOLED screen which will leave room for bigger batteries.

"That will put Samsung in good stead to still dominate the market," he said. Despite pressure in China, Gai estimates Samsung's share of smartphones with 5-inch or larger screens to fall only from 73 percent in 2012 to 58 percent in 2016, which is still the lion's share.

By then consumers will see the phablet for what it is, says Horace Dediu, a Finnish analyst who runs a technology blog asymco.com. Its rise is part of a wider march of computing power into wherever we reside - the living room, the train, bed or work. "It makes sense that we're moving towards a time where we are served not by a computer or a netbook or a phone, but rather that we have these screens scattered around and available for us to play with," he said. "In a way the phablet is not a bulky phone but a very delicate computer."

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