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Make way for 'Frankendevices': Phablet use expected to double in 2014

Phablet use may double this year as end users seek ways to be productive on smartphones. Apple's upcoming phablets could push the trend further.

IT administrators should expect to see more "Frankendevices" in the enterprise this year as end users who need smartphones for productivity buy phablets.

Phablet use in 2014 will grow significantly with 362 million worldwide shipments this year, representing 30% of all smartphones, IDC reported during its recent Worldwide Mobility Predictions 2014 webinar.

Phablet adoption has grown steadily worldwide with IDC reporting 189 million shipments in 2013, totaling 18.7% of smartphone shipments. That was up from 29.7 million shipments in 2012 and 1.2 million in 2011, when Samsung first released its Galaxy Note phablet.

With bring your own device on the rise, analysts believe the overall proliferation of phablets will continue to trickle into the enterprise, with uses becoming clearer.

However, these phone-tablet hybrid devices are still in their niche phase and don't necessarily appeal to everyone, according to Ramon Llamas, IDC's mobile phones team research manager.

"From a form factor perspective, it's still very uncomfortable and awkward to hold," Llamas said during the webinar. "How many people want something the size of a notebook held up to their face?"

But as mobile device use shifts from voice usage and more to data usage, he expects larger screens to become in vogue.

How many people want something the size of a notebook held up to their face?
Henry Llamasanalyst, IDC

The move to larger-screened smartphones is similar to the move made by many from physical keyboards -- popular on BlackBerry devices -- to touchscreen models, according to Chris Hazelton, director of mobile and wireless at 451 Research in New York.

"It's about a user preference and what people are willing to sacrifice in that larger screen," he said.

Some of these devices already have their place. Phablets with an integrated stylus are used in businesses for doing signatures on devices, Hazelton said.

"When you're looking to be really productive on a smartphone, it's easier when the screen is larger," he said. "Still, it's kind of a religious debate over what size device people like to have."

phablets in 2014

At least when it comes to tablets, enterprises prefer a larger screen, according to data from Yankee Group's IT Decision Maker survey in September 2013 of 285 U.S. IT professionals and executives. Of those surveyed, 76% prefer a tablet that is nine to 10 inches, while 22% prefer seven to eight inches.

"The driver for a larger than five-inch screen smartphone is driven by the desire to do more on the smartphone," Hazelton said.

Better opportunities for line-of-business applications exist on tablets over smartphones, according to Eric Klein, senior mobility analyst for VDC Research Group Inc. in Natick, Mass.

"Smartphones are complimentary devices for a lot of business users," Klein said. "So there's an opportunity there [for phablets]."

Apple: The elephant in the phablet room

The original equipment manufacturers to join the phablet brigade, in addition to Samsung, are BlackBerry with its Z30 and Nokia, with its latest Lumia 1520. But the elephant in the phablet room is Apple Inc.

Mobile insiders expect the next major Apple device to be a larger-screened iPhone, a bridge between the four-inch screen of the iPhone 5s and the 7.9-inch screen for the iPad mini.

IDC predicts Apple will release its phablet this year. Llamas believes Apple will work to produce a phablet with a good resolution and also suspects the company is working with developers to ensure plenty of applications will be available for such a device.

Apple did not respond to requests for comment.

"Apple will be able to address this very quickly with vendors so that when it comes to launch later this year it's going to be a full-blown experience with plenty of apps on a perfect resolution for user's eyes," Llamas said.

Hazelton thinks the driver for a large-screen iPhone will be from the pent-up demand from the already wide iPhone user base.

"Having a larger screen is something both the enterprise and users want," Hazelton said. "If you can save money by getting a larger iPhone rather than an iPhone and an iPad, that's something people will definitely do."

Klein believes the success of the iPad mini points to potential success for an iPhone with a screen of either five or six inches. But the big question remains on how applications will be provisioned, and he said developers are focused on working in HTML5 to accommodate screen size adjustments.

"That's an important element, to have a consistent look and feel for your apps regardless of the size of the screen," Klein said.

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Mobile devices seem to have better built-in support of digital accessibility. This is critical considering a huge potential market and aging of the present customers.