Phablets aren't just a passing craze, new data show.
Shipments of the phone-tablet hybrids will surpass portable PC shipments this year and tablet shipments next year, International Data Corp. said Wednesday. The tech research firm defines phablets as smartphones with screen sizes between 5.5 and about 6.99 inches. Devices with displays 7 inches and above are considered tablets.
This year, electronics vendors will ship about 175 million phablets, IDC said, passing the 170 million laptops expected to ship during the same period. Next year, phablet shipments will top 318 million units, surpassing the 233 million tablets forecast to ship in 2015. Apple's larger screen iPhones should give the category a boost, with phablets growing to 32 percent of the smartphone market in 2018 from 14 percent this year, IDC said.
"With Apple expected to join the space in the coming weeks, we anticipate even more attention on phablets as larger screen smartphones become the new norm," said Melissa Chau, IDC senior research manager.
Samsung Electronics, which launched its newest phablet Wednesday, started the phablet category with the introduction of the 5.3-inch Galaxy Note in 2011. Though the device was mocked at first for its large, almost comical display, but the larger display size gradually found acceptance with consumers. There was a begrudging acceptance of the Note 2 in the market and eager anticipation for the Note 3. Samsung's devices also set off a stream of similar big-screen devices from rival handset vendors such as HTC and LG. Even Apple plans to introduce bigger screen iPhones, including a possible 5.5-inch phablet, during an event Tuesday in Cupertino, Calif.
Samsung, the world's biggest smartphone vendor, on Wednesday showed off its new 5.7-inch Galaxy Note 4 at its Unpacked events in Beijing, Berlin, and New York. It also unveiled the Galaxy Note Edge, a new phablet with a 5.6-inch display that curves around the right side of the device -- giving a sort of infinity pool effect. Users can see quick notifications, such as sports scores or trending items on Twitter, or click on app shortcuts, even while watching a movie on the main screen. In a world where all smartphones have started to look the same, the Galaxy Note Edge stands out.
Despite pioneering the market, Samsung risks losing its position to Apple. Analysts say there's a lot of pent-up demand for larger iPhones, and the anticipated iPhone 6 could be one of the largest product launches in Apple's 38-year history. Apple reportedly has asked manufacturing partners to produce about 70 million to 80 million units of its larger screen iPhones by December 30, which is about 30 percent to 40 percent more iPhones than it ordered for its initial run of last year's iPhone 5S and 5C.