It might look funny and a bit odd, people pressing mobile phones the size of small tablets to their ears. But across Asia, Latin America, and Africa, emerging-market consumers who don’t have a whole bunch of other devices prefer bigger-screened phones, which they use as a single hub to call, text, play games, shoot and edit photographs, read, and watch videos.
And mobile-phone companies are responding. Samsung’s Galaxy Note 4, rumored to be coming out on Sept. 3, has a 5.7-inch display, and Apple’s newly anticipated iPhone 6 will come in two sizes, 4.7 in. and 5.5 in., both larger than the iPhone 5′s 4-inch screen.
Researchers at Jana, a mobile technology firm, asked about 1,400 people in nine large emerging-market countries what size they expected their next smartphone to be. Over half of them in every country wanted screens 5 inches or larger, going into from phone into “phablet” territory. Today, 90% of smartphonescreens are smaller than 5 in.
People who preferred screens smaller than 5 in. typically said it because they wanted phones that were easy to grasp and carry. Those who wanted bigger screens said those made it easier to play games, read, and watch high-definition videos. In fact, most of the people surveyed said they used their phones to watch video (see the chart below), and it’s projected that by 2019, 50% of global data traffic will come through video apps.
More than 75% (pdf, p.5) of the world’s six billion mobile phones are located in the developing world, and although most people in these markets use feature phones, smartphones are getting cheaper. Analysis firm IDC projects that some 1.2 billion smartphones will be shipped throughout the world this year—a 23% increase from 2013—with emerging markets leading the way.