The smoke has just barely cleared from the CES frenzy last week, but with the closing of one of the best gadget shows in the world, several key trends have already begun to emerge for 2013.
One of the biggest is in the field of phablets, a growing phenomenon on several points, as a report from IHS iSuppli projects that by the end of 2013, phablet shipments worldwide will double in amount.
A phablet – a portmanteau of the words "phone" and "tablet" – is the general term used to refer to smartphones that have a display measuring at least five inches. They're typically larger than the standard phone, yet smaller than even the smallest tablets, giving them something of their own form factor classification. While there are clear advantages to such a form factor, as well as disadvantages, the key point here is that they're on the rise, and in a big way.
IHS iSuppli, for example, expects shipments to reach fully 60.4 million units this year, which is up from last year's count of 25.6 million, a whopping 136-percent rise. Further gains are expected through 2016, where they are expected to reach a high-water mark of 146 million units even.
Most of the phablets in question will be bearing the brand names and logos of Chinese firms. Huawei's Ascend Mate, with its five-inch display showing at 1920 x 1080 resolution, is likely to lead the way, but ZTE's Grand S will not only have a claim on phablet rank with its own 1920 x 1080 five-inch display, but also on the title of the world's thinnest quad-core smartphone at just 6.9 millimeters deep.
Lenovo's IdeaPhone K5 and K900 will also get in on the action, but Japan's Sony Mobile has some skin in the game with its five inch Xperia Z.
Some tablets are looking to get in on the action as well with smaller sizes and increased functionality, along with smaller price tags, like Acer's seven inch Iconia B1-A71, which looks to come in at under $150.
The biggest driver in the larger smartphone / smaller tablet seems to be a synthesis of several factors coming together all at once. There are progressively more mobile devices on the market every year, so companies need a way to clearly make theirs stand out. But customers' tastes are also changing. Many are still price-sensitive in a weak economy, so pricey tablets are out for many.
With mobile video sources on the rise, and consumers wanting a way to take their video fun on the road with them, there's plenty of room here for a slightly larger phone that provides a better viewing experience on a small screen.
Some, of course, would point out that tablets are difficult to carry around without providing a separate bag for them, whereas a smartphone can fit easily into the pockets of most pants, but the end result here is pretty standard.
There's quite a bit of room in the market for a bigger phone...or a smaller tablet.
Units shipped, however, don't mean units sold, so it’ll be interesting to see if the shipments mean more sales and more devices in use. Only time will tell just how that shakes out, but if IHS iSuppli is right, we could be seeing a lot more in the way of phablet on the market soon.