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Phablets are extremely popular in Eastern Asia – but why is that?

Large-screened handsets - often called phablets - might be niche devices in North America and Europe, but the same can't be said for most of Southeast Asia.
October 15, 2013
Samsung Galaxy Note 3 jet black S pen stylus aa 6

There was a time when smartphones with sub-4-inch displays were considered the norm. Fast-forwarding to today, many Android flagships have easily pushed past the 4.5-inch mark, with many more hovering around or slightly above 5-inch mark.

Even with the recent growth in device display size, handsets like the Galaxy Note 3, Xperia Z Ultra and HTC One Max are still very much considered niche products. According to Flurry Analytics, a worldwide sample of nearly 100,000 iOS and Android devices determined that only 7 percent of handsets have displays 5 to 6.9-inches in size.

Interestingly enough, this same statistic doesn’t seem to hold up in Eastern Asia.

Speaking to the Guardian in September, IDC reported that a total of 25.2m ‘phablets’ had shipped in the Asia-Pacific region, excluding Japan. This figure was actually higher than both mobile PC and tablet shipments. Furthermore, the Guardian indicated that large-screened smartphones accounted for more than 30% of all smartphone sales in India.

A similar level of growth seems to exist in other Asian markets, including China. Then there’s South Korea, which is home to the ‘phablet’ that started it all, the Samsung Galaxy Note.

With Samsung accounting for 60% of all smartphone sales in South Korea, it might come as little surprise that Flurry Analytics recently determined that a whopping 41 percent of smartphone sales are for devices that are 5-inches or larger. After all, both the Galaxy S4 and Note 3 hit or exceed this size barrier.

So what’s the disconnect here, why are large screened handsets more popular in the Asian world than they are across the rest of the globe? One of the most obvious reasons is that the phablet revolution has been pushed by Asian-based companies such as Samsung and LG, just as Apple is based in the U.S. and therefore tends to enjoy stronger sales in the North American market.

Beyond that, there are factors such as brand perception, marketing and more. We’ll go ahead and focus on just two factors that make phablets attractive to Asian buyers.

sony xperia z ultra aa design standing

Phablets: a perfect tool for gaming

In Southeast Asia – and particularly in South Korea – the mobile gaming industry is huge. According to Flurry Analytics, the most popular app store in South Korea is SK Planet’s T Store. In cooperation with Flurry, the T Store reported that a staggering 68% of its revenue from apps and other digital content comes from gaming.

While a sub-5-inch display might be fine for checking Facebook, some web browsing and light gaming, it’s not so great for more ‘hardcore’ mobile gaming.

With most of the Asian markets finding mobile gaming more accessible and affordable that console or PC gaming, it’s not surprising to see that these consumers would favor handsets with larger-sized displays.

Phablets: the ideal all-in-one computing platform

A large-screened smartphone can remove the need for a separate tablet, gaming console and even a PC for some folks. This is particularly important for emerging Asian markets, as many consumers can’t necessarily afford to own multiple different devices.

This all-in-one design is equally important in bigger cities in Asia, where much of the populous relies on public transportation. If you’re going to spend a good hour or more aboard some form of public transit, why not have a device that can make calls, conduct business, play games and handle multimedia without the need to drag along your tablet or notebook computer?

In short, handsets like the Note 3 can be a window into your digital world without the need for any other device.

Wrap up

Large-screened smartphones might be most popular in Southeast Asia, but we wouldn’t be surprised to see larger sized devices continue to catch on in other parts of the world as well. The idea of one device that can do all is something that is universally appealing, and that’s why we are starting to see more manufacturers push display sizes upwards.

Right now, it’s mainly Android manufacturers that are pushing screen size, but even that may be changing in the not-too-distant future. Not only did Microsoft recently roll out a new update for its less-than-popular mobile platform that will open the door to phablet-sized smartphones, but rumors suggest Apple may eventually consider a larger-screened handset as well.

What do you think of 5+-inch smartphones, do you prefer them or would you rather have several different mobile devices that all have their own specific uses?