'Phablet' gadgets remain niche market: analyst

Taipei, March 17 (CNA) The "phablet" category, or mobile devices in sizes of 5 to 6 inches to bridge the smartphone and tablet segments, is unlikely to attract the majority of consumers, according to an analyst at research firm Gartner Inc. CK Lu, senior research analyst of mobile devices at Gartner in Taipei, said such devices provide more choices for multi-device owners, but the opportunity they present in the near term may not be as large as some companies imagine. "We continue to believe it is a niche market," Lu told a local media briefing recently, explaining that the phablet category appears attractive only to consumers in certain regions. For example, he pointed out, Asian consumers prefer carrying only one mobile device because of their limited budget for electronic products, so phablet devices are gaining popularity in this area. In the United States and Europe, however, people usually take a smartphone of 4.5 to 5 inches and a 7-inch tablet computer with them when going out because they still want to separate the functions of a phone and a tablet, Lu said. The key to making this segment successful is creating applications that take advantage of the large screen, such as those developed by handset makers Samsung Electronics Co. of South Korea and Huawei Technologies Co. of China, Lu added. The Gartner analyst's remarks came after Taiwanese computer manufacturer Acer Inc. noted on March 11 that it plans to unveil its first phone-tablet hybrid handset at the Computex Taipei tech fair in June, hoping to gain traction in the fast-growing market. The new Acer phablet will have special features in terms of size, camera and software, while another model with "major upgrades" of certain components will be launched by the end of this year or early next year, said Acer Corporate President Jim Wong. Wong projected that the global phablet market will grow to about 10 million units in 2013, up from between 7 million and 8 million units last year. (By Jeffrey Wu)