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'Phablets' here to stay, says Samsung

The phablet - half phone, half tablet - was one of 2012's big trends, and Samsung is clearly still loving it. During a chat with Nick DiCarlo, Samsung's vice president of product planning, he promised a continued emphasis on phablets like the Galaxy Note 2, additional pen-related apps, and more Android upgrades for Samsung's many smartphone users.

"We know, and we've proven very effectively, that consumers like big-screen phones," he said. But now Samsung has to show how its phablet is different from others' phablets. "Ours has the S Pen ecosystem: the pen, the digitizer, the SDK and the apps," he said. "We have more work to do to make that ecosystem as good as it can be."

So how big is too big for a phablet? Is the 6.1-inch Huawei Ascend Mate too big? Is an iPad mini?

"We'll find out when we find out!" DiCarlo laughed. "With the 7in Galaxy Tab, the number one complaint we had in the US market was that we didn't launch it with voice calling. That took me by surprise," he stated.

Getting phabletty changes your perspective on smartphones as well, he mused.

"The funny emotion for me now is how small the (4.8in) Galaxy S3 feels," he said. "One of the things I think will be happening through 2013 and 2014 is that hand-feel won't be the overarching conversation. It'll be the experiences you have on the device," he said.

Merging TV with mobile experiences will be a big deal in the upcoming year, according to DiCarlo.

"[People are] going to watch so much more video on [their devices] that their behaviour of what they do with TV is going to change," he said. During a football game, for instance, you'll "throw" the video from the TV to a tablet so you don't miss a play while you're getting a beer, he said.

Android Upgrades Improving

Of course, not everyone wants a phablet. Lots of people want smartphones. And plenty of folks are perplexed about whether their Android-powered smartphones will get upgrades to new versions of Android.

This isn't just about tech bragging rights. DiCarlo said that context-aware apps like Google Now will be a big trend through 2013 and 2014. Google Now uses what it knows about you to deliver relevant information - showing currency exchange rates when you travel to a foreign country, for instance.

"I think the frontier is this context aware interaction," DiCarlo said.

But Google Now requires Android 4.1, and almost half of all Android devices in use are still running Android 2.3, according to the latest numbers from Google.

DiCarlo believes Samsung is getting better at delivering Android upgrades in the US, and it's made them a priority.

"The Galaxy S3 was the fastest Jellybean (4.1) upgrade of anybody in the industry. If you think about that as a total sea change from where we were with the Galaxy S1, we've made a lot of progress. There's no doubt that we have room to improve, but that's something I'm proud of that we accomplished in 2012," he said.