Suggestions that Apple needs to make a big-screen iPhone if it wants to stay relevant in the US may be premature, NPD data indicates, with the 4-inch iOS handset dominating smartphone sales in 2013 as "phablets" took only a small slice of the pie. Price and brand cachet are seen as two key reasons for sluggish adoption of phones with screens 5.3-inches or bigger, such as Samsung's Galaxy Note line, with handsets in that category amounting for just 4-percent of overall smartphone sales in Q4 in the US.
That's considerably at odds with other geographies, NPD Group highlights, and while some have suggested that phablets will cannibalize both phones and slates, leads the researchers to conclude it's currently "a segment that is clearly not threatening smaller size tablets or any other mobile device segment."
In 2013, NPD says, 121m smartphones were sold in the US, of which 3.3m were phablets. iPhone maintains a hold on nearly half of the US smartphone market, it points out, arguing that "until Apple releases a phablet the US will remain underdeveloped."
Meanwhile, the relatively high cost of big-screen phones versus 7-inch budget tablets - which don't require a service agreement - is tipped as another factor limiting phablet adoption. That, NPD suggests, is partly down to the unique way Americans use their gadgets.
"US consumers are more comfortable owning multiple devices and using them in defined scenarios than other markets are," Stephen Baker, VP of Industry Analysis at NPD Group says, "and are able to acquire them at very attractive prices."
Price drops or a bigger Apple device are required if that's to change, the researchers conclude. At least part of that could well be the case in 2014, if earlier rumors are to be believed, with chatter that Apple will indeed expand its screen size for this year's handset.