No, a phablet version will not save the iPhone

Everyone is telling Apple it needs a big-screen iPhone to rekindle sales -- but a look at the data shows that won't work

I'm at an age where I like my screens to be bigger, as long as their text is too. Apple has not seen fit to address this need, and its iPhone screen has become the runt of the smartphone litter, as most high-end competitors have focused on larger and larger screens. Some even approach 6 inches in diagonal screen size and are dubbed "phablet" (a cross between phone and a tablet).

Although Apple's iPhone sales continue to set records and grow in market share in the United States and other countries, the din of pundits telling Apple it needs to come up with its own phablet iPhone model is only getting louder. Apple's recent revenue report was the latest excuse for this advice that has been urged for at least two years upon the company.

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Although the company broke its previous records, people worried that the growth rate is slowing and the iPhone cash cow may be going the way of the iPod -- done in by saturation. Apple's salvation is a phablet, these folks say. The Wall Street Journal reported last week that bigger-screen models will debut this fall -- a variation of the same rumor we've been hearing every few weeks over the last three years.

Sorry, but a phablet isn't Apple's salvation. And I say that as someone who personally would like a bigger-screen iPhone.

"But, wait!" you say, "Look at how well Samsung is doing with the Galaxy Note line, whose latest model has a 5.8-inch screen and sold 10 million units in two months. And Samsung's Galaxy S series has done very well; the latest model, the 5-inch Galaxy S 4, sold 10 million units in under four weeks." Impressive, right?

Except the iPhone 5s despite its 4-inch screen took just a week to match the 10 million mark. Globally, Samsung sold about 320 million smartphones last year, of which a third (about 100 million) are high-end, bigger-screen smartphones like the Galaxy S and Galaxy Note. In that same period, Apple sold 150 million iPhones -- outselling Samsung when it comes to "real" smartphones. The same pattern has been true for previous versions of iPhones versus previous versions of Galaxy S and Galaxy Note smartphones.

If the phablet is Apple's salvation, buyers don't know that. Even in the Android world, the big-screen smartphone is not the red-hot seller you might think. Neither Samsung nor Apple reveals the breakdown for each model, but by triangulating various market researchers reports for the final quarter of 2014, when both the iPhone 5s and the Galaxy Note 3 were on sale, I come up with about 32 million iPhone 5s units (despite constrained supplies), 13 million iPhone 5c units, 20 million Galaxy S 4 units, and 11 million Note 3 units sold over that period. (Samsung also sold about 55 million lower-end smartphones in that period, and by my rough estimates Apple sold about 6 million iPhone 4s units.)

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