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The potential impact of the superphone

Last month, I wrote an article in which I weighed the potential of the phablet, a device that crosses a phone with a tablet. While analysts often use the term "phablet" to describe these devices, it doesn't do real justice to the form factor. Instead, I now prefer the term "superphone."

Whatever you call it, this new form factor was made popular by Samsung's Galaxy Note. When I, along with many other analysts, first saw the Note, I questioned its viability; it just seemed too big to hold up to your ear as a phone.

Boy was I wrong. It struck a chord with consumers and Samsung sold ten million in 2012. It expects to double that number this year.

Even though Samsung is doing well with its Galaxy Note series, these devices are still a very small part of the smartphone landscape today. Still, I believe that they have the potential to represent as much as 25 per cent of the smartphone market by 2015, because consumers want a choice in smartphones and manufacturers are realising that one size does not fit all.

Since 2000, Creative Strategies has done a lot of research involving tech adoption cycles within various age groups. Early on, we specifically took aim at Gen X and Gen Y, but around 2005, we added research on how baby boomers and seniors view and adopt technology, too. Our research with older users really picked up once the iPad was launched because from the beginning, we saw that boomers and seniors loved its screen size and intuitive touch interface.

More recently, we have started to see a lot of interest in superphones from boomers and seniors for the same reason; larger smartphones have screens that are easier to read and navigate. Our early research suggests that this demographic may be the first to start adopting superphones in large numbers. Fascinatingly, a younger audience has no trouble with smaller screens, but we are even seeing interest in superphones from this group as well.

One of the arguments against a large screen smartphone is that once you get to 5.3in screens and larger, it is very difficult for people to operate them with one hand. In fact, when Apple introduced the iPhone 5, it emphasised that 4in screens were optimal for one-handed use. Although using a smartphone with one hand is a big deal for many, we are starting to see a lot of folks really interested in smartphones with bigger screens who don't mind having to use two hands to operate them.

Choice of screen size

The core issue in smartphones, though, is that people want a choice in the size of screens. Samsung really understands this and it therefore offers phones with displays that range from 3.5in to 5.7in – a big reason why I believe the company is gaining so much market share.

Providing screen size options, of course, is an issue that Apple must deal with in order to stay competitive. The iPhone 4 and 4S displays measure 3.5in while the newest iPhone 5 is 4in, but it is clear that if consumers want more choice in screen sizes, Apple must acknowledge this trend and respond quickly.

Apple must also be quicker to bring new iPhones to market. Again, Samsung really understands this concept; it refreshes existing models and introduces new smartphones at least twice a year because it knows that at any given time, millions of people are awaiting the Next Big Thing in smartphones.

Steve Jobs decided to slow to annual upgrade cycles during the early iPod era due to complaints of buyer's remorse when Apple introduced new iPods at least twice a year. The smartphone market is very different, however, and demand for something new happens year-round.

Another reason I see superphones taking off is that the 5.7in to 6.1in versions could easily double as mini-tablet. I love my iPad mini, but at 7.9in, it is too big to put in my pocket. However, even a 6.1in model, such as the Huawei Ascend Mate (pictured right) fits in the back pocket of my jeans and is easy to carry around. It would be safe to say that more and more users will like the idea of a larger phone that can serve as both a smartphone and a tablet.

The more I work with superphones, the more I see their potential. This is a form factor that could garner a lot of attention not only from boomers and seniors, but also from younger generations. As a result, these superphones could have a significant impact on the smartphone market.