In some ways, South Korea is a snapshot of where global smartphone trends are heading. The country leads the world in smartphone market penetration by about two years. Phablets took off in South Korea before they gained traction in the rest of the world thanks to Samsung’s insights about this new product category. And according to Flurry, which defines a phablet as a smartphone with a screen that measures between 5 and 6.9 inches diagonally, phablet penetration in South Korea’s smartphone market has now hit a dizzying 41%, far above the global average of 7%.
Is the rest of the world heading to 40% phablet market penetration? Even if the global average does not get there, it is quite possible that advanced mobile markets from United States to Germany will get close.
IDC reported 600% annualized unit growth for phablets in Asia during the spring quarter. Samsung has often been derided as a copycat, but the display size issue is where the company had a profound insight that clearly caught Apple off-guard. Samsung’s once radical move to expand its smartphone palette to models featuring 5-inch and 6-inch screens has turned out to a blueprint for the entire industry. All vendors from LG and Nokia to Mixromax, Karbonn and Huawei are now rushing to launch diverse portfolios of phablet models at various price points.
Apple continues to drag its feet instead of trying to get ahead of the trend as the industry makes its big move to 6-inch models. Samsung may still lag behind Apple in areas such as user interface innovation and hardware polish, but the vendor’s phablet savvy has helped it boost its global market share radically, which continues to drive market share gains over Apple.
South Korea is now for Samsung the sort of laboratory for advanced mobile behavior trends that Finland used to be for Nokia. Back in the mid-1990s a surprising surge in text-messaging among Finnish consumers persuaded Nokia to give SMS features a central placement in its GSM phone menus. Similarly, South Koreans went wild for phablets years ago — and the world is now following.