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Apple?s phablet-market longevity indicated by surging shipments

Apple can be expected to remain in the market for large-screen smartphones that showcase richer advertising content for the foreseeable future, after record iPhone 6 Plus shipments in the fourth quarter drove the company to the top of the global smartphone vendor rankings for the first time, according to research reports.

The Cupertino, CA, company, which also makes the iPad, iPod and the Mac, posted 74.5 million iPhone sales, up 90 percent from the prior quarter and a 46 percent jump from the fourth quarter of 2013. For the first time, Apple became the leading smartphone vendor and the second-largest handset vendor.

?There is clearly an appetite for larger screens among Apple buyers, and the iterative approach Tim Cook is taking to Apple products with multiple sizes and storage capacities means that we can expect more of these kinds of devices in the future,? said James Moar, an analyst with Juniper Research.

?Average smartphone screen sizes in general have been increasing for several years now, and Apple is no exception to this. The creation of the 6 Plus is also likely to motivate other vendors targeting the premium end of the market to provide similar devices, although the take-up may not be so strong as there has been no pent-up demand for Android phablets in the same way as there has been for iOS,? he said.

Richer content
Besides affording greater opportunities for rich ad content, the proliferation of the more expensive larger-screen iPhones means their affluent owners are a reachable target market.

IPhone 6 promotion.

?This is particularly important for the Chinese market, where Apple is looking to expand, and engagement with mobile ads is greater than in North America and Europe,? Mr. Moar said.

The enthusiastic reception for the iPhone 6 Plus indicates a large potential for Apple phablets that could further accelerate the bigger-screen trend, according to Juniper.

Juniper estimates Apple to account for 30 percent of the market for phablets, which boast screens that are 5.5 to 6.9 inches diagonally, in 2015.

When Apple unveiled the larger display screens for its iconic smartphone in September, the move was expected to help the company gain ground on rivals who had passed it with larger smartphone screens.

The announcement also sent a message that the maker of numerous game-changing devices was still a force to be reckoned with in the innovation arena, an issue that was questioned following the death of the company?s legendary founder and CEO Steve Jobs.

Apple?s success as a large-screen phone provider is ironic, given its initial reticence to follow Samsung and other rivals onto the big-screen battlefield. 

?Apple resisted the move to larger screens for quite some time and are now reaping the rewards of meeting the consumer desire for larger screen phones,? said Joseph Zahtila, general manager for North America and executive vice president for commercial development with Qriously. ?The switch from the iPhone 5 to the much larger 6 Plus was seamless. The smaller phones now feel inadequate,? he said. 

Apple?s share of the overall handset market was 14.8 percent during the quarter. Its smartphone market share was 20.2 percent. Average selling price for the iPhone jumped to an all-time high of $687.

Although Apple?s rival, Samsung, accounted for a quarter of all smartphones shipped in 2014, the figure declined from 30 percent a year ago.

Bigger canvas
From a marketer's perspective, Apple?s larger devices offer a bigger canvas while largely mitigating issues with advertising font size. 

A richer marketing canvas.

?I suspect the popularity of larger phone sizes will force iPad and other tablets to further differentiate, likely through even larger sized tablets,? Mr. Zahtila said. ?These devices will almost certainly follow the fully functional, laptop replacements like the Microsoft Surface.?

?Apple phones and tablets have provided a wonderful medium for marketers, with near flawless ad experiences,? he said. ?I'd expect that Apple's dominance will only help improve the advertising experience for both consumers and marketers.?

Final Take
Michael Barris is staff reporter on Mobile Marketer, New York.