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Study: 'Phablets' a fad, iPhone screen sizes most popular

updated 06:54 pm EDT, Mon April 1, 2013

Top 200 device brands studied for share and usage

Mobile marketing analyst Flurry have unveiled their latest study, which draws samples from around one billion smartphones and some 2,000 unique device models worldwide. The study looked at both the distribution and usage by end-users of the top 200 device models, and found that "medium phones" with 3.5- to 4.9-inch screens were far and away the dominant choice in both areas. Phones with smaller screens were steadily declining in usage as buyers upgrade, and smaller tablets and "phablet" phones have yet to make much end-user headway.

Flurry draws its data from developers that use the company's performance analytics to get detailed information about where users are, how often they use the applications and on what platforms. For the new survey, the company broke down the statistics by screen size, declaring "small phones" to be ones with screen sizes of 3.5 inches or less, "medium phones" to be 3.5- to 4.9-inch models, "Phablets" to be smartphones with sub-seven-inch screens (but at least five inches), "small tablets" to have seven to 8.4-inch displays and "full size tablets" to have 8.5-inch or larger screens.

In the small smartphone arena, older BlackBerry (formerly RIM) models are dominant. Flurry found that by device distribution, they still make up 16 percent of smartphones, but by actual usage they are declining, currently around seven percent, and only around four percent of app users (largely due to the limited and utilitarian nature of apps on such small screens). Of BlackBerry's total active base, around 70 percent are still on the smaller form-factor, while 30 percent have moved up to more recent models with the medium-sized screens.

Smartphones with displays above 3.5 inches but below five inches were the overwhelming consumer choice in the study, claiming 69 percent of mobile devices and 72 percent of active users. The iPhone slightly edged out Android devices that fall into this category (74 percent to 70 percent), such as the Galaxy S III, but both iOS and Android's respective user base had a majority of users on medium-phone displays.

For the purposes of this survey, Flurry did not reveal hard numbers on platform percentages overall, instead simply showing the percentage of users with a platform that were on a given screen size. Some 14 percent of Android users are on small-form smartphones, while only seven percent are on so-called "phablets."

Indeed, phablet did poorly throughout the survey, having captured only two percent of the overall mobile market and a mere three percent of overall active users. "Sessions," or the percentage of time spent with a class of device compared to other devices, was also also around two percent. Despite a broad marketing push and a perception of popularity due to "shipment" numbers, end-user app use tells a simple story: consumers don't buy, don't like and don't use "phablet" devices much, preferring mostly medium-sized smartphones or real tablets.

While small-form smartphones saw their sessions and active users shrinking, tablets (all sizes) are still gaining users. Tablets combined made up 13 percent of the device marketshare but 18 percent of active users and sessions, with full-size tablets (a category completely dominated by the iPad) taking a slight lead over seven- to 8.5-inch devices (where the iPad mini is the most popular, but not as thoroughly dominant as the full-size iPad in terms of share). The "mini tablet" category had six percent device share compared to full-size tablets' seven percent, but only five percent of users compared to 13 percent for full-size (and similar figures for sessions) -- suggesting that full-size tablets are still the preference of tablet buyers and users, though how long that will remain true is open to debate.

In the "mini-tablet" category, devices such as the Kindle Fire and Google's Nexus 7 provide close competition to Apple's iPad mini, but when devices are broken down by platform and user base percentages, differences become clearer. On Android, not surprisingly, smaller tablet form factors are four times as popular as full-size tablets, whereas on iOS the newer iPad mini accounts for just two percent of users compared to 24 percent on the full-size iPad (of course, the iPad was around for nearly three years earlier than the iPad mini, a very late entry into the "seven- to 8.5-inch" category. At a total of 10 percent user share, Android tablets overall even beat out the user percentage of phablet buyers.

Another portion of the study looked at what type of apps users most often access on their devices. Games, books and videos were most popular on medium-phone screen sizes, and again least popular on phablets and small tablets.

Interestingly, e-book reading seemed to be about equally popular on all non-medium phone and tablet fronts, suggesting that people use medium-sized smartphones more than any other device for book reading. Flurry offered the possible explanation that both books and videos were popular on smartphones over tablets due to commuters and other users who still see the smartphone as a purely mobile device, and tend to pursue leisure activities such as reading on larger devices mostly when they are home or on vacation.

Flurry believes that the "phablet" form factor is more of a fad than a solid consumer choice, and that the tablet market is nearly equally split on the two main classes of screen size -- but is while still small compared to smartphone users, that market is both growing and spending more time on the device than its market penetration would suggest. On smartphones, the survey concludes, consumers have spoken: they like mediums-sized screens between 3.5 and five inches, probably leaning more towards the larger end more recently (though the survey didn't break it down that specifically). The most dominant individual-selling brands of smartphone are all medium-sized devices: the various iPhone models and the Samsung Galaxy S III, all of which offer 4-to-5 inch screens.

by MacNN Staff



  1. iphonerulez

    Dedicated MacNNer

    Joined: 11-28-08

    Too early to tell, either way...

    I think we should at least wait until large-display smartphone buyers decide to buy their next smartphone to see how many of them continue to buy a larger-display smartphone or will they get a smaller display for their next purchase. This whole idea that EVERYONE wants the largest display possible is pure nonsense. I wonder who is pushing that idea without even conducting some sort of poll. Do I think buyers should have a choice of sizes? Yes. Is Apple's iPhone display size no longer credible? Hardly. I doubt consumers' eyesight have deteriorated to the point they can no longer read a 4" Retina display. _______
    You've got these few vociferous tech-heads running around saying that the Samsung Note is going to take over the smartphone industry because the display is huge and uses a stylus and therefore the iPhone is obsolete. Such bull-crap. Large display smartphones are nice for those who want them, but that by no means makes smaller displays less useful or obsolete. I'm sure Apple will not be put out of business if they don't build over-sized smartphones. There has to be an ergonomic sweet spot for smartphone display sizes and I'm certain 5" is about a half-an-inch outside of that envelope.

  1. Charles Martin

    MacNN Editor

    Joined: 08-04-01

    You may underestimate ...

    ... the size of the bear-paw-handed market. :)

    OTOH, I think the fact that "medium" screen smartphones tend to do better with women says everything about the future, and its not looking good for phablets. Or as I like to call them, "the new netbooks."

  1. pairof9s

    Senior User

    Joined: 01-03-08

    I agree, iphonerulez...

    It's my one regret with the iPhone needed just a 1/4 inch wider screen to go with increase to 5 inch height. And one of my pullbacks on the Galaxy is that it just feels too big!

  1. winstef

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: 02-12-06

    Of course...

    Simply look at smartphone sales in the US; the iPhone dominates.

  1. aristotles

    Grizzled Veteran

    Joined: 07-16-04

    Some of you are compensating

    If you think you need a bigger screen then you obviously have really small feet. I have a hard time finding my shoe size in most stores. I am perfectly happy with the iPhone 4S screen size.

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