They're oversized, bulky and discriminate against those with smaller hands or tighter jeans, but according to the latest figures as well as being big physically, they're also big in terms of popularity in the Asia-Pacific region where Chinese, Korean and Indian consumers can't get enough of the devices that are too large to be dubbed smartphones yet too small to be classed as tablets.
IDC claims that phablet sales in this region are now on a par with both tablets and laptops combined and their popularity is continuing to grow. A total of 25.2 million phablets shipped in the Asia-Pacific region (excluding Japan) over the past three months. During the same period, only 12.6 million full-sized tablets (i.e., larger than 7-inch) and 12.7 million notebooks shipped, according to the company's figures.
Samsung is credited with creating the device category with the Galaxy Note, but three years on there are a number of competing devices from most of the world's leading Android device makers on the market that can be categorized as phablets as their screens measure greater than 5-inches from corner to corner.
"Phablets first started as a trend driven by mature markets like South Korea, Hong Kong and Singapore -- and these markets continue to rise. What's changed now is the added pick-up of phablets in emerging markets like China and India, not just the plethora of big-name vendors competing head-to-head with Samsung, but instead the low-cost local players who have swooped in to offer big screens for less money -- averaging a retail price of US$220 versus Samsung's US$557," said Melissa Chau, Senior Research Manager with IDC Asia/Pacific's Client Devices team.
But the big news isn't that the devices are outselling other portable computing gadgets, it's the rate at which they've jumped from a niche to a mainstream product in the region. Back in the third quarter of 2012, shipments were hovering around the 3-million mark meaning that in a year, phablets' popularity has rocketed by some 620 %.
And while Samsung is still the phablet market leader, over the past three years, it has seen its share of the market fall from 90 % to 50 % but all eyes will no doubt be on Berlin, Germany on Wednesday when the company officially reveals its latest device in the category, its flagship Galaxy Note III, which is expected to redefine what consumers can expect from a phablet device.
As for why phablets have caught on so quickly, the consensus seems to be that Asia-Pacific consumers are looking for convergence, they want a single device that can cover communication and productivity that is light and small enough to take with them on the go with a better viewing experience than a smartphone but without the extra bulk of a tablet or weight of a notebook or ultrabook computer.