Just when technophiles were getting used to the idea of smaller tablets and smartphones with all sorts of bells and whistles, along comes the "phablet."
A new trend has begun to sweep the digital world, which is bearing witness to tablets shrinking at the same time that smartphones are getting bigger. The phenomenon has led techies to coin a new phrase in its honor — hence the phablet moniker.
At the Computer Electronics Show last week, analysts noted the sudden leap in the size of smartphone screens, primarily the Galaxy Note by Samsung, the Ascend by China-based Huawei, and Sony's Xperia.
Aside from sending grammarians into paroxysms of rage, phablets carry big implications for the digital wars being waged by Samsung Electronics, Apple, Amazon and Barnes and Noble, among others. Touchscreen devices like smartphones, tablets and now phablets, combine the best of several worlds: web browsing, computing, instant messaging and voice calls.
"The tablet user model does take up a chunk of what PCs used to cover," said Jay Chou, a senior research analyst at research firm IDC. Desktop computers "first came out as a family van, but over time … the tablet [became] the hatchback," he said.
With smartphones and tablets both growing in use, a hybrid of the two wildly popular devices may hasten the day of extinction for personal computers. Consumers on a constant search for the next big thing in computing are already starting to respond to the trend.
The migration to phablets could trigger "some friction between small tablets and big smartphones," Chou said. That is because diminishing tablet sizes, with their functionality and portability, may help struggling PC makers seeking to break into the tablet market.
Yet for now, consumers appear to be responding by shifting their purchases away from desktops, while raising the stakes in the smartphone wars.
Last week, the IDC reported that 2012 PC sales slid 3.2 percent from the year ago period, the first annual decline since 2001. For the current year, the firm is forecasting a modest 2.8 percent growth in desktops — increasing the pressure on beleaguered computer makers like Dell and Hewlett-Packard.
At last week's CES, analysts noted the prominence of Samsung — whose flagship Galaxy smartphone is a phablet in all but name with its 5.5 inch screen. The Korean smartphone maker, Apple's biggest competitor in the space, announced on Monday that it had sold 100 million devices worldwide.
The willingness of consumers to use bulkier smartphone/tablet hybrids may be contributing to the steady decline of Apple's iPhone market share. Samsung has overtaken Apple in market share, underscoring how the Galaxy's size isn't necessarily a barrier to users flocking to the device. (Read more: Samsung to Widen Smartphone Gap With Apple This Year: Report.)