Inside telecommunications Issue 9

Technology

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The rise of the phablet

“Phablets” – smartphones with screens of between 5 and 7 inches, were a key talking point at this year’s GSMA Mobile World Congress.

Devices such as the Samsung Galaxy Note, Huawei Ascend Mate and ZTE Grand Memo illustrate this new form factor, which is proving increasingly popular as demand for mobile web browsing and mobile video services rises.

In January 2013, IHS predicted that phablet shipments will total 146m by 2016, up from 25.6m in 2012 and an estimated 60.4m in 2013.2 This augurs well for the Android operating system (OS), which has been the supporting platform for large-screen phones.

Figure 3: Distribution of device models, active users and mobile data sessions by device form factor

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Source: blog.flurry.com

On the technology side, ongoing price reductions for large-size, high-resolution device displays are expected to support phablet growth for some years to come. Asia-Pacific markets are expected to drive demand.

Strong demand for an emerging type of device may cannibalize more established products, posing a challenge for vendors. New form factors also represent a challenge for developers, who must consider how far they wish to optimize content for different screen sizes.

Accessories such as smart watches that combine small size with specific functionalities are gaining attention.

While falling power consumption requirements have opened up the market for these products, interoperability challenges are making their presence felt. Technologies such as Wi-Fi and Bluetooth exist to connect devices themselves, but there is no standardized route to linking services.

Looking ahead, initiatives such as Qualcomm’s AllJoyn show how specific APIs will be needed to counter the risks of service fragmentation as new types of devices emerge.

Newcomers shake up the mobile OS ecosystem

Google’s Android OS and Apple’s iOS together accounted for 88% of global smartphone shipments in 2012.3

However, recent months have seen established OS players focus on refreshing their offerings while several new entrants have debuted innovative mobile software platforms. Mozilla’s Firefox OS is due to launch in June in five countries.

Another open-source project, the Ubuntu mobile OS, was showcased by UK-based software company Canonical in January. The Linux-based software will allow smartphone users to run desktop apps on their handsets, enabling their devices to double as PCs when linked to monitors.

Handset manufacturers and operators are keen to reassert some measure of control in the device experience, evidenced by Samsung’s partnership with Intel to create the Tizen OS.

Figure 4: Millions of smartphone OSs in use worldwide in 2013

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Source: “Mobile and Connected Devices Forecast & Monitor”, Yankee Group, January 2013.

Established players have also updated their platforms. In January, Research in Motion unveiled BlackBerry 10 OS with new features, as the rebranded Canadian manufacturer looks to win back market share.

Windows Phone 8 released last year, and early signs have been encouraging in terms of shipment volumes for the Microsoft platform.

Open-source systems are paving the way for a more cooperative smartphone ecosystem, with both device manufacturers and mobile operators looking to reclaim territory lost to disruptive technology giants.


2“Large-Display Smartphones Featured at CES; Shipments Set to More than Double in 2013,” iSuppli, 16 January 2013
3“Android and iOS Combine for 91.1% of the Worldwide Smartphone OS Market in 4Q12 and 87.6% for the Year,” IDC, 14 February 2013