Consumers here big on giant handsets

SINGAPORE - Noticed more people here putting a giant smartphone, or phablet, to their ear? You're not imagining things.

Latest data by market-research firm IDC showed that close to half of all 808,000 smartphones shipped to Singapore in the second quarter of this year were phablets, or smartphones which have screen sizes between 5 inches and 7 inches.

This includes smartphones like the popular 5-inch Samsung Galaxy S4.

And, going by figures provided to My Paper by IDC, the demand for such devices is on the rise, and outpacing that of tablets and portable personal computers (PCs).

In the second quarter of this year, device vendors shipped 366,000 phablets to Singapore, more than triple that from a year ago. There were 118,000 phablets shipped in the second quarter of last year.

In contrast, there were 335,000 tablet shipments in the second quarter of this year, slightly more than the 308,000 a year ago.

For portable PCs, which include laptops without detachable keyboards, shipments in the second quarter numbered 186,000, down from 216,000 a year ago.

Ms Melissa Chau, senior research manager for client devices at IDC Asia-Pacific, said the strong interest in phablets here is driven by Samsung.

This is especially so since the South Korean brand released its flagship Galaxy S4 device in April.

Ms Chau added that there are also "more players coming into the (Singapore phablet) market, like LG, Asus and Sony...but they are all dwarfed by Samsung".

Another reason for the interest in phablets is their screen size.

"The size is in a 'sweet spot' - it (makes a phablet) small enough to carry around, but not too big to be inconvenient," said Ms Chau, adding that the size is ideal for watching videos on the go.

Consumers might have initially found it weird to be holding such a large device to their ear to take calls but, as people are increasingly using their phones for purposes other than making calls, the size of phablets has become more acceptable, she said.

Asked if the growth in phablets here will continue, Ms Chau said that much depends on whether Apple will introduce a phablet-type device.

"The market in Singapore still has quite a strong brand loyalty to Apple," she said.

"What we are seeing in most developed markets is a plateauing of smartphone growth. The same trajectory will eventually apply to phablets in Singapore, if we don't see Apple getting into it."

Ms Loo Pei Fen, group marketing director of IT retailer Challenger Technologies, said phablet sales are "growing steadily" as customers look for larger screens and more productivity functions.

She added that sales of both phablets and tablets picked up late last year, and saw a spike early in the first quarter of this year, with continued growth expected ahead.

In fact, she said the growth for phablets "far outstripped" that for PCs at Challenger on a month-on-month and year-on-year basis.

Assistant communications manager Fang Zhiwen, who uses a 5.5-inch Samsung Note II, said she enjoys the phablet's bigger screen and better resolution, which are good for viewing videos and playing games.

"I can't go back to the tiny screen (of the iPhone), which makes me squint," said the 28-year-old.

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