Samsung helped push mainstream tastes in mobile phone display sizes well past the 4-inch mark, and during the third quarter of 2013, smartphones with screens measuring 5 inches on the diagonal and larger reached their highest shipment rates yet, according to research firm Canalys.
Smartphones with 5-inch or larger displays accounted for 56 million units, or 22 percent of the 251 million smartphones that shipped during the quarter.
If devices with 6-inch displays—called phablets by many, for their half-phone, half-tablet physiques—are to gain considerable traction, Samsung will again need to be driving the trend.
"The 6-inch-plus segment will be boosted next quarter by Nokia's arrival, but this market won't develop quickly unless Samsung invests marketing dollars to push its Galaxy Mega range," Canalys Research Analyst Jingwen Wang said in a Nov. 5 statement.
During the quarter, 66 percent of the 56 million large-display devices that shipped had a 5-inch display, according to Canalys; 31 percent had displays between 5 and 6 inches; and just 3 percent had 6-inch or larger display.
The Samsung Galaxy Mega, which has a 6.3-inch display, arrived on the AT&T network Aug. 23.
On Oct. 22 Nokia introduced the Lumia 1520 and 1320—smartphones at different price points but both with 6-inch displays. The Lumia 1520 will arrive this month on the AT&T network.
LG Electronics, jumping on two trends, showed off the LG G Flex Oct. 28. It's a phone with a display that's both 6 inches and curved from top to bottom.
China and Growing Screen Sizes
China was again the leading market for smartphones. While the overall market grew 44 percent year-over-year, growth in China was 64 percent, with nearly 100 million of the quarter's 251 million going to China.
According to Canalys, the Asia-Pacific region is expected to lead the global demand for large-screen smartphones.
Consumer demand for WiFi-based tablets is limited in these areas by low WiFi network penetration, low home broadband penetration and high levels of mobile network use.
Added to this, said the report, "many consumers in these countries are price-sensitive, so domestic vendors have been successful with affordable large-screen smartphones—a phenomenon that is less visible in other regions."
In 2014, Canalys expects the range of 4.1 inches to 5 inches to be the most popular worldwide, as they offer the best balance of portability and crispness.
During the quarter, Samsung again led, followed by Apple—together, they accounted for nearly 70 percent of shipments—and LG Electronics held on to the third spot.
In North America, Nokia, "making gains" with the Lumia 1020 and Lumia 925, said Canalys, "moved from eighth to fourth place."
Pointing out the "interesting disparity" between vendors by region, Nicole Peng, a Canalys research director in China, noted: "In Greater China, local vendors Lenovo, Yulong and Huawei followed Samsung. Apple moved back into the top five this quarter, ahead of Xiaomi and ZTE, which shows the success of its strategy to finally prioritize China as one of the initial launch countries for its new products."
Strategy Analytics, also reporting on the quarter's results and Huawei's success—it found it to have overtaken LG as the third-place finisher—said that if Huawei is going to continue to move its way up the ladder, it will need to "expand aggressively" in the United States and Europe.
After China, the next largest region during the quarter, with 56 million units, was Europe, the Middle East and Africa, said Canalys. North America was third. Latin America, while the smallest region (19 million units went there), had the second highest growth rate, at 59 percent.