Big screens and popular designs are helping Samsung take a bite out of Apple’s smartphone lead

Marc Sidwell
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TAKE note. 2013 has already been dubbed the year of the phablet – the hideous nickname given to oversized mobile phones that are closer in form factor to a tablet computer. This year’s Consumer Electronics Show featured new phablets from the likes of Lenovo, Sony and Huawei. Some have gone so far as to call them the new PC. It is all good news for Samsung, which was in the vanguard with its Galaxy Note, selling 10m units from October 2011 before introducing the Galaxy Note II last August.

It is not such good news for Apple, which has steered clear of the category, opting instead for a mini but still tablet-sized version of its iPad and a somewhat enlarged screen on its iPhone that, at four inches, is still far smaller than the Galaxy Note II’s 5.5-inch screen.

For the last five years, the iPhone has held near-undisputed sway as the industry-leading mobile. But perhaps the tide is starting to turn. In another indication that some of the shine is coming off the iPhone, America’s influential Consumer Reports used its February 2013 edition to identify the iPhone 5 as at the back of the pack of top smartphones available on US networks. The scores only vary by a point or two but it is a seismic moment for what was once dubbed the Jesus phone. Samsung phones are not always the top choice but they beat the iPhone 5 on AT&T, Sprint and Verizon.

And this is about more than phablet fads. Consumer Reports puts the Galaxy Note II in third place on T-Mobile but it gave first place to Samsung’s Galaxy S III, also in the top three for all the other networks.

Apple saw its shares fall yesterday on the report of weak demand for the iPhone 5. It follows a lacklustre end to 2012 for the Cupertino-based firm. Meanwhile Samsung said it had sold 100m Galaxy S phones globally since 2010. For comparison, from the iPhone’s launch in June 2007, Apple took until March 2011 to sell 108m units. All this hardly means crunchtime for Apple. Its products remain exceptionally profitable and there are even stray rumours of a five-inch screen in its next generation of products. But the clear winner here is Samsung. Big enough to stand up toe-to-toe with Apple in the mobile patent wars, it is creating a suite of products that may not cast the religious aura of its rival, but can still generate enough passion to sell in their millions.