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SciTechTalk: Is Apple, late to the phablet party, rushing to catch up?
[January 26, 2014]

SciTechTalk: Is Apple, late to the phablet party, rushing to catch up?

(UPI Science News Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Phablet. Odd word, that. A mashup of smartphone and tablet, it's one of those construct words that pop up when technology moves too fast for the language and creates a niche genre of products for which there's no handy existing label.

Odd/silly name or not, phablets are selling and selling well. After some initial "too awkward as a phone but too small for watching a movie" responses from critics, consumers have weighed in with their votes and their wallets, and phablets are flying off the shelves.

Before we go further, let's pin down a definition: It's all down to display size. Smartphone screens have been getting bigger, and many now hover around 5-inch territory. Tablets started at around nine or 10 inches, but a class of smaller, 7-inch display tablets has proved popular.

So phablets have jumped in to fill that gap between 5 and 7 inches. Consensus seems to have settled on putting a phablet label on any smartphone with a 5.6-inch or larger display.

And to repeat, they're selling, with analysts predicting 120 million of them will be shipping annually by 2018. That's up from the 20 million snapped up by buyers in 2013.

With their ability to stream video and play games -- and still make or receive the occasional phone call -- they're proving particularly popular in Asia.

However, while consumers can look to companies like Samsung, HTC, LG, Huawei and others for their phablet choices, there's one company -- one that practically has made its name as a creator and then leader of niche device markets -- that's conspicuous by its absence: Apple.

That's right, Apple -- whose iPhone and iPad can be said to have kick-started both the smartphone and tablet arenas -- is late to the game when it comes to phablets.

That's not a fact Apple head Tim Cook is likely happy about, especially since Apple wants very much to get into the rapidly growing Asian market, but there are signs the company has seen the writing on the wall -- or on the display screen -- and is working on an iPhone that may at last venture into phablet territory.

Last week there were reports the next iPhone will get a larger display than the current iPhone 5S' 4 inches, perhaps as large as 4.8 inches. And while that would just make the iPhone one of a flock of large-display phones -- think Samsung Galaxy S4, Nexus 5 and a host of others -- those reports also mentioned the possibility of an even larger device in development at Apple going beyond 5 inches.

So is Apple thinking of a phablet? It would be new territory for the company, as something as large as 5.6 inches would take the iPhone out of the easy one-hand-use paradigm Apple has long championed. Oh, a phablet can be used with one hand -- if you're an NBA star. For the rest of us, it's hold with one hand and work the screen with the other.

Still, the thought of an Apple phablet has most analysts excited, even at this late date.

"It's a product category that's been missing from Apple so this is good to see," Alex Gauna, an analyst at JMP Securities, told USA Today. "I would much rather have seen Apple first to market with larger-screen phones rather than playing catch-up." Cook might agree; consumers will have the final say.

Copyright 2014 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.

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