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Big-screen smartphone shipments to surge this year, says iSuppli

Cellphone makers are seeking to differentiate their products in an increasingly competitive market

Shipments of smartphones with screens 5 inches or larger will more than double this year, as consumers are increasingly attracted to the large screen sizes offered by the phones, according to a prediction from IHS iSuppli.

The company said it expects shipments of such phones to reach just over 60 million units in 2013, up from 25 million units in 2012. The entire smartphone market is expected to be around 836 million handsets, which means the large-screen phones will make up about 7 percent of the market. In 2012, large-screen phones accounted for about 4 percent of all smartphones, said IHS iSuppli.

Demand for large-screen handsets is strongest in Asia, where customers find the screen size easier for Asian text input, said Vinita Jakhanwal, director of mobile and emerging display research at the company.

At last week's International CES in Las Vegas, two Chinese cellphone makers unveiled new phones with large screens. ZTE's Grand S has a 5-inch, full high-definition (1,920-by-1,080-pixel) screen, while Huawei's Ascend Mate has a 6.1-inch screen. That screen pushes further the boundary between phone and tablet and is the largest yet featured on a smartphone.

Of course, all screens are not created equal -- something Apple sought to underline when it began emphasizing the "retina" screens on its phones.

Apple's retina screens pack pixels closer together than many competing phones, resulting in a much sharper and crisper image, but that's also being challenged by the new wave of larger screens.

"Apple tried to differentiate their product and bring attention to the PPI (pixels per inch) that people had not cared about in the past," said Jakhanwal. "All the new phones are full HD and some are greater than 440 pixels per inch. The iPhone is 326ppi, so the new phones are definitely trying to use the buzz around pixel pitch that Apple created."

Enabling the growth in large-screen smartphones is expansion in production capacity of such screens at major display makers, like Sharp, LG Display and Japan Display, a company formed in late 2011 when Sony, Toshiba and Hitachi merged their small and medium-size display businesses.

Supply of 5-inch and larger screens is still a little tight, but new and more advanced production lines coming from these companies, and later from Chinese display makers, will help free up supply to meet the increasing demand, said Jakhanwal.

For display makers, the growing market is good news. The screens on such smartphones are often high-end products with high resolution that command a higher price and better profit margins than 3-inch and 4-inch class screens where competition is fierce, said Jakhanwal.

Martyn Williams covers mobile telecoms, Silicon Valley and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Martyn on Twitter at @martyn_williams. Martyn's e-mail address is martyn_williams@idg.com

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