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Phablets typically have screens that measure (diagonally) between 5.3 to 6.9 inches (134 to 180 mm), which complement screen-intensive activity such as mobile web browsing and multimedia viewing. Phablets may also include software optimized for an integral self-storing stylus to facilitate sketching, note-taking and annotation. While Samsung's Galaxy Note (2011) is largely credited with pioneering the worldwide phablet market when launched in 2011, examples of early devices with similar form factors date to 1993.
The popularity of phablets grew dramatically in 2012, as a successor to the original Galaxy Note, along with the falling costs and increasing power efficiency of smartphone displays, began to fuel competition in the market from other smartphone manufacturers, including LG, HTC, Huawei, and Sony; IHS reported that 25.6 million phablets were sold in 2012 alone. Owing to the market's growth, Reuters called 2013 the "Year of the Phablet." In 2014, noting that phablets had overtaken laptops and desktops in global sales, The New York Times said "phablets could become the dominant computing device of the future — the most popular kind of phone on the market, and perhaps the only computer many of us need."
The Android-based Dell Streak included a 5 inch (130 mm), 800×480 display and a widescreen-optimized interface. Reviewers encountered issues with its outdated operating system, Android 1.6 (which was not yet optimized for such a large screen size), and the device was commercially unsuccessful.
The Samsung Galaxy Note used a 5.3 in (130 mm) screen. While some media outlets questioned the viability of the device, the Note received positive reception for its stylus functionality, the speed of its 1.5 GHz dual-core processor, and the advantages of its high resolution display. The Galaxy Note was a commercial success; Samsung announced in December 2011 that the Galaxy Note had sold 1 million units in two months. In February 2012, Samsung debuted a Note version with LTE support. By August 2012, the Note had sold 10 million units worldwide.
The Galaxy Note was followed up in late-2012 by the Galaxy Note II, which employed a 1.6 GHz quad-core processor, a 5.55 in (141 mm) screen and the ability to run two applications at once via a split-screen view. The Note II also incorporated a refreshed hardware design based upon that of the Galaxy S III, with a narrower, smoother body. Sales of the Galaxy Note II reached 5 million units internationally in two months. The 2012 LG Optimus Vu used a 5-inch (130 mm) display with an unusual 4:3 aspect ratio—in contrast to the 16:9 aspect ratio used by most smartphones. Joining the Galaxy Note II on many carriers' lineups in 2013 was the nearly-identically-sized LG Optimus G Pro, released in April.
In late-2012 and early 2013, companies began to release smartphones with 5 inch screens at 1080p resolution, such as the HTC Droid DNA and Samsung Galaxy S4. However, despite the screen size approaching those of phablets, HTC's design director Jonah Becker explicitly stated that the Droid DNA was not a phablet. HTC would release a proper phablet, the HTC One Max—a smartphone with a 5.9 in (150 mm) screen and a design based on its popular HTC One model, in October 2013.
Examples of Android phablets with screens surpassing 6 inches in size began appearing in 2013; with the Chinese company Huawei unveiling its 6.1 in (150 mm) Ascend Mate at Consumer Electronics Show, and Samsung introducing the Galaxy Mega, a phablet with a 6.3 in (160 mm) variant, but unlike the Galaxy Note line it does not use a stylus. Sony Mobile also entered the phablet market with its 6.4 in (160 mm) Xperia Z Ultra.
As a variation of the concept, Asus and Samsung also released otherwise small-sized tablets, the FonePad, Galaxy Note 8.0 and Galaxy Tab 3 8.0, with cellular connectivity and the ability to place voice calls. Later that year, Nokia also introduced Windows Phone 8 phablets, such as the 6-inch Lumia 1520.
In September 2014, Apple released the iPhone 6 Plus as part of its iPhone models for 2014. The device is the first iOS phablet, and has the largest screen of any iPhone model to date, at 5.5 inches. Later that month, BlackBerry also released its first phablet, the enterprise-oriented BlackBerry Passport, which is differentiated by a unique square-shaped, 4.5 inches (11 cm) display (making the device notably wider than even the most recent entry in the Galaxy Note line), and its inclusion of the company's iconic physical keyboard. The company touted that the square-shaped screen was optimized for business-oriented tasks such as document editing, image viewing (such as architectural schematics and x-rays), and web browsing.
In an analysis, Engadget identified falling screen prices, increasing screen power efficiency and battery life, and the evolving importance of multimedia viewing as critical factors in the popularity of the phablet. A consumer need for "all-in-one" devices that can serve as both a phone and tablet, especially in emerging markets, has also been considered a factor in the growth of the phablet market. Phablets have also been popular with an older demographic of smartphone users, as their large screens provide a benefit to those with deteriorating eyesight.
In 2012, Forbes magazine noted that while most clothing cannot hold a typical tablet computer, men's clothing in particular could and may well adapt to accommodate phablets. Doug Conklyn, vice president of global design for Dockers told Fox News that the company reworked the size of its pants pockets "to accommodate the growing size of smartphones." For women, a small handbag can easily accommodate a phablet, but not most tablets.
In January 2013, IHS reported that 25.6 million phablet devices were sold in 2012 and estimated that these figures would grow to 60.4 million in 2013, and 146 million by 2016. Barclays projected sales of phablets rising from 27 million in 2012 to 230 million in 2015. In September 2013 International Data Corporation (IDC) reported that its research indicated that phablet size smartphones "overtook shipments of both laptops and tablets in Asia in the second quarter of 2013."
Device makers shipped 25.2 million phablets in Asia/Pacific excluding Japan (APEJ) in the second quarter of 2013, compared with 12.6 million tablets, and 12.7 million laptops.
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