The pressure is on Apple to produce a 5-in. or larger display iPhone, since the so-called "phablet" segment grew by 369% in the first quarter and represented 34% of all smartphones shipped.
"The trend is unmistakably toward larger-screen handsets at the high end of the market," said Canalys analyst Jessica Kwee.
Samsung so far leads and captured a 44% share of devices with screens 5 inches and over in the quarter, but also grabbed a 53% share for smartphones at 5.5 inches or larger. In addition, Lenovo, Huawei, LG Electronics and Sony have shipped significant volumes of larger smartphones.
A phablet is a smartphone with a larger screen, somewhere between the size of a mobile phone and a tablet.
In a statement, Kwee noted that "consumers now expect high end devices to have large displays, and Apple's absence in this market will clearly not last long." Apple's latest iPhone, the 5S, has a 4.5-in. display, but Apple is widely expected to increase the display size in its next-generation iPhone which is expected to be announced in June.
Of the more expensive smartphones, those that had price tags of $500 or more (unlocked), 47% had a 5-in. display or larger, and of the remaining 53% of high-end smartphones, 87% were iPhones.
"Apple plainly needs a larger-screen smartphone to remain competitive," Kwee added.
Canalys also reported that the four BRIC countries — Brazil, Russia, India and China — made up 44% of the global total of smartphone shipments, which reached 279.4 million in the fourth quarter. BRIC countries are known for their large numbers of young adults given demographic trends of the past three decades, making them prime potential smartphone buyers.
All four BRIC countries for the first time ranked among the top 10 smartphone markets.
China is the largest smartphone market in the world, and made up 35% of all shipments, compared to 12% for the U.S.
Globally, Samsung was the largest smartphone vendor with a 31% share, besting Apple, which was second, at 16%. Five of the top 10 vendors were from China: Huawei (ranked third), Lenovo (fourth), Xiaomi (sixth), Yulong (eighth) and ZTE (ninth.)
Overall, Android devices made up 81% of the market, with the iPhone at 16% and Windows phone at 3%.
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