Phablets Quickly Gaining Popularity in U.S. Market, Led by Apple

Phablet sales are soaring in the United States, with about one in five smartphones sold in the first quarter of 2015 being a larger-screen phablet, according to a new report.

Soaring phablet sales

Smartphones continue to be hugely popular in the United States, but larger handsets, known as phablets—a cross between a phone and a tablet—are growing in sales especially quickly, almost quadrupling their sales from just one year ago.

Phablets made up about 21 percent of U.S. smartphone sales in the first quarter of 2015, which was an increase of almost four times the 6 percent share that phablets had in the same quarter one year ago, according to a May 6 report based on market share data from the Kantar Worldpanel research firm.

The Apple iPhone 6 Plus phablet (pictured) made up 44 percent of the U.S. phablet sales in the quarter, according to the report. About 43 percent of iOS phone customers and 47 percent of Android phone customers cited the larger screen sizes of the phablets as being the main reason for buying their new devices, the report added.

"Apple's overall sales dominated AT&T, Verizon and Sprint where iPhone represented 59 percent, 43 percent and 50 percent of smartphone sales, while Samsung dominated smartphone sales at T-Mobile with a share of 42 percent," according to the report.

Interestingly, Apple's larger iPhone 6 and 6 Plus already represent 18 percent of all iPhones in use in the U.S., the report states.

Carolina Milanesi, the chief of research at Kantar Worldpanel, told eWEEK that Apple's domination of the phablet marketplace so far is striking. "It's all about Apple, which in reality makes the rest of the phablet market not very important," she said. "If it wasn't for Apple, the rest of the phablet market wouldn't be there."

Competitors Samsung and LG have 27 percent and 22 percent of the U.S. phablet market respectively, but those are figures across several generations of devices, said Milanesi. With the iPhone 6 Plus, which was unveiled only last September, "here you have one product on the Apple side with that much of the market."

Kantar Worldpanel provides research based on information gathered through consumer panels, combined with market monitoring, advanced analytics and other market research.

Phablet devices available in the U.S. so far include the big-screen Samsung Galaxy Note 4 and the Galaxy Note Edge, the Apple iPhone 6 Plus, Google Nexus 6, Nokia Lumia 1320 and the LG G Flex 2. The latest phablets include displays that range from 5.5- to 6.1-inches in size, which gives app developers more space to place controls and interactive features, according to earlier eWEEK reports.

Among the enterprise-focused features of some of the latest phablets are things like split-screen capabilities for viewing two apps at a time and larger screen real estate, which is welcome for working on a document or presentation that can't be done on a smaller smartphone.

Samsung's Note line of phablets also includes a separate stylus that allows users to hand-write notes that can be captured into documents and emails, as well as built-in enterprise data containerization features to protect corporate data.

The Galaxy Note was one of the first true phablets back when it was introduced in 2011 and has since been followed by a steady procession of similar larger devices, which are still smaller and more portable than tablets. Apple's scaled up iPhone 6 and 6 Plus smartphones debuted in September 2014, partly as a response to the larger mobile handsets that were already attracting attention in the marketplace from enterprise users as well as consumers.

Some enterprises see phablets as devices that could potentially supplement laptops for employees, while not actually being a primary mobile device, while others see phablets as a versatile and viable platform that is waiting for more business-focused apps to drive their popularity to new heights, according to an earlier eWEEK report. One potential game-changer that could help drive phablet use in the enterprise in the future is the promise of custom apps built specifically to take advantage of a phablet's extra display size by adding buttons and other features that can't be included in the same apps for smaller smartphones.