'Phablet' sales soar amid smartphone screen wars

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It's been one of the tech buzzwords of 2013, and now fresh research has revealed that sales of "phablets" - oversized smartphone handsets that are a cross between a phone and tablet - have surged this year.

A quarter of a billion smartphones were shipped in the third quarter of 2013, with 22 percent of these featuring a screen size of 5 inches of more, according to a report by Canalys research firm published late Tuesday.

Some 56 million of the larger-screen devices were shipped over the three months, compared to 45 million in the previous quarter - a 24 percent rise.

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Breaking this down further, 66 percent of these phablets had a 5 inch display, 31 percent had screens of between 5 and 6 inches, whilst just 3 percent had 6 inch or larger screens.

"This trend continues to be driven mainly by Samsung, which dominates the large-screen segment," Canalys said in a press release. The Korean company has continued to update its popular Galaxy Note and Mega ranges, but rivals Sony, Huawei and HTC have all "gone big" in 2013, bringing larger-screen models to the market.

Jingwen Wang, a research analyst from Canalys said the 6 inch-plus segment would be boosted next quarter by Nokia's arrival in the market, but warned it would not develop quickly unless Samsung invested in marketing strategies to promote its Galaxy Mega range.

"Over the next year, Asia Pacific is expected to continue to lead the demand for large-screen smartphones due to the nature of emerging markets there. Low PC and home broadband penetration, a high level of mobile network use, and low Wi-Fi network penetration in these countries limit the presence and functionality of Wi-Fi tablets," she said in the press release.

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Daniel Gleeson, mobile analyst at IHS Electronic and Media agreed, telling CNBC that phablets would continue to see steady growth in the future with Asia being the main driver. Indian companies such as Lava and Micromaxx would be critical to this, he said, with both companies looking to release sub-$200 models on the domestic market.

"These new statistics are to be expected," he told CNBC. "It shows that mobiles are now more than just communication devices, they are now media consumption devices."

Advancements in screen technology have enabled companies to sell more of these larger smartphones, he added, with screen sizes growing relative to the size of the device.

(Read More: Samsung Unveils New 'Phablet': Threat to Expected iPad Mini?)

David Garrity at GVA Research told CNBC in February that 2013 would see the rise of the phablet, with a plethora of companies launching products in the sector. The Canalys data looks to have proved him right, and the word phablet was among hundreds of new words added to the Oxford Dictionaries Online this year.

But Garrity expressed concerns at the start of the year about how consumers would adapt to carrying phablets - as their size means they do not fit inside a trouser or jacket pocket.

"Expect fashion designers to be thrown into a frenzy of activity managing the intersection of humans and hardware," he said at the time.

By's Matt Clinch. Follow him on Twitter @mattclinch81