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Consumers on Smartphone Screens: Go Big or Go Home

Consumers on Smartphone Screens: Go Big or Go Home

Research from T-Mobile indicates U.S. smartphone buyers generally want big screens on their smartphones -- 77 percent said 4.5 inches or more would be best. The survey coincides with T-Mobile's offering of the huge Galaxy Note phone, and perhaps the fact that T-Mobile is the only major U.S. carrier to not carry the relatively small-screened iPhone. Still, the results appear to match research from other groups.

By Rachelle Dragani
07/19/12 6:00 AM PT

Smartphone customers in the U.S. want bigger screens on their devices, according to a study from T-Mobile.

The phone provider, along with Kelton, polled more than 1,000 U.S. consumers starting last May and found that 77 percent of smartphone users prefer a device that has a 4.5-inch or larger screen over a smaller display.

T-Mobile highlighted the results of the study in a blog post announcing the availability of the Samsung Galaxy Note, a phone with a particularly large screen. Samsung's 5.3-inch device is meant to be a smartphone-tablet hybrid, with some tablet-like capabilities such notepad functionality. The product is sometimes referred to as a "phablet."

T-Mobile relies heavily on sales of smartphones from manufacturers such as Samsung and HTC, since it is the only major U.S. provider not to offer Apple's iPhone.

"T-Mobile's lack of an iPhone was probably a motivating factor for this study," Colin Gibbs, analyst at GigaOM Pro, told TechNewsWorld. "The carrier continues to struggle without Apple's phone, and it's doing just about anything it can to call attention to its high-end phones."

At 3.5 inches, the iPhone's screen is one of the smaller displays on the market. A larger, thinner display is one of the many new features rumored to arrive with the next iPhone, expected this fall. However, Apple hasn't officially promised it will make changes to the device's screen size, which has been the same since the smartphone's 2007 debut, even as its competitor's displays continue to grow.

"It makes sense that T-Mobile would do this study, because essentially they're saying they have the big screen that people want," John Feland, CEO and founder of Argus Insights, told TechNewsWorld.

The company did not return our request for further details on the study.

Bigger, Better?

Regardless of T-Mobile's motives, its data mirrors other similar consumer research, said Colin Gibbs, analyst at GigaOM Pro. One recent study from Strategy Analytics found even higher numbers, claiming that 90 percent of smartphone owners wanted a bigger display than the one on their current device.

"The market has proven that there's substantial demand for bigger screens with the success of gadgets like the Droid X, which has a 4.3-inch screen," said Gibbs.

The demand for larger display grows as smartphones become popular tools for watching digital content and playing games, said Feland. In addition, as people become more attached to the apps, data and content now on their phones, the devices are generally more valued. That means more customers are seeing the benefits to a larger screen and aren't afraid it's a device they can't carry around with them, said Feland.

"People are getting excited about the larger display, and Android is grabbing a lot of that mindshare," he said. "More and more people are not putting their phone in their pocket, they're getting a bag or a purse or something you can carry it in. And if they do want a phone they can stick in their pocket, they want something even smaller than the iPhone, so display sizes are getting more extreme."

Options Are Growing

Those extremes are part of an evolving market that will lead to more device crossover and ultimately more tailored consumer choices as the market expands, said Gibbs.

"I think the Galaxy Note is just another evolutionary step -- not just toward bigger devices, but toward a wide range of devices in different sizes," he said.

Before there is a wider range of products, though, consumers face the choice of which product, or products, is best for them among smartphones, tablets and laptops, said Feland. When confronted with those options, a hybrid product can serve as the best of all worlds for the mainstream consumer, he said.

"People are trying to solve the conundrum of, 'Do I have a smartphone, a tablet, a big laptop or all three?'" he said. "And having a bigger display can kind of help answer that question and solve the problem by being a bit of everything."


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