AHEAD OF THIS YEAR'S CES in Las Vegas, the internet was rife with talk that tablets were going to steal the show as we edge closer towards a post-PC era.
However, I had a very different experience at this year's show, as I noticed that tablet fever was distinctly missing. However, although most major mobile phone makers save their big smartphone announcements for Mobile World Congress, I soon saw that "phablet" fever was in full force. (Before I go on, I must apologise for using the word 'phablet' throughout this article. It's horrible, I know.)
This got me thinking. Despite Gartner's claims earlier this week that tablets will eventually replace PCs, I can't help but think that the phablet could become the main device driving the post-PC era.
Huawei led the phablet race at this year's CES with the launch of the Huawei Ascend Mate. Billed as the largest smarphone to date, the Ascend Mate features a humongous 6.1in screen - less than an inch smaller than Google's Nexus 7 tablet.
Lenovo jumped on the phablet bandwagon too, as if sniffing another trend that could help it survive in the post-PC era. It announced the Intel powered K900 smartphone/tablet at the Las Vegas technology show, which matches Samsung's Galaxy Note 2 with its 5.5in display.
These weren't they only phablets I saw at CES. Stands from Alcatel, Sony, ZTE and, to be frank, companies I'd never heard of before were full to the brim with big-screened smartphones, with not many tablets to be found.
This trend is likely to continue, which I expect to see at MWC next month. For example, there's talk that Samsung's next generation phablet, the mooted Samsung Galaxy Note 3, will feature a 6.2in screen - again, less than an inch smaller than the host of 7in Android tablets on the market.
HTC is rumoured to be gearing up to launch its first phablet device too, and we'll likely be seeing mammoth-screened smartphones from a number of other big name phone makers as they all look to compete in the smartphone market.
I can't help but think that this could be a sign that phablets could not only overshadow the PC, but could also put tablets in the shade.
Sure, a phablet isn't for everybody - me included thanks to my small hands - but as this trend continues, smartphones are going to continue to get bigger and bigger. This trend will surely lead consumers away from buying tablets, as who needs a device that offers a mere 0.8in more screen real estate?
Not everybody agrees, though. I spoke with Dominic Sunnebo, global consumer insight director at Kantar Worldpanel Comtech, who thinks smaller firms will struggle to replicate the success of Samsung's Galaxy Note series, which his firm said was the main force behind the tablet trend.
Sunnebo said, "The one area of concern would be for the Huawei 6.1in Ascend Mate. Bigger screen sizes are becoming more popular, demonstrated by the success of the Samsung Galaxy Note. However for a relatively unknown brand to push the size barriers this far is a risk.
"Samsung invented the 'Phablet' category armed with a serious marketing budget, and unless Huawei follow suit this is likely to remain a niche product."
So, are phablets a niche market or the next big thing? I'd keep an eye on those tablet sales figures if I were you. µ
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