Report: Phablets made up 21% of U.S. smartphones sales in Q1, with the iPhone 6 Plus leading the way

Smartphones keep getting bigger and bigger smartphones are delivering big sales, according to a new report from Kantar Worldpanel ComTech.

Phablets, which are generally described as smartphones with screens at least 5.5 inches or larger, made up 21 percent of all U.S. smartphone sales in the first quarter, according to Kantar, nearly quadrupling from 6 percent of smartphone sales in the year-ago period.

In its second full quarter of sales, Apple's (NASDAQ: AAPL) iPhone 6 Plus, with its 5.5-inch screen, captured 44 percent of sales in the phablet segment during the quarter, according to Kantar. Screen size was cited as the main reason for buying a particular phone by both iOS and Android buyers at 43 percent and 47 percent, respectively.

In Apple's most recent quarter--its fiscal 2015 second quarter, which ended March 28, the company said it sold 61.2 million iPhones, up from the 43.7 million units Apple sold in the year-ago period.

Interestingly, Kantar found that during the first quarter Apple dominated smartphone sales at AT&T Mobility (NYSE: T), Sprint (NYSE: S) and Verizon Wireless (NYSE: VZ), making up 59 percent, 50 percent and 42 percent of smartphone sales at the carriers, respectively. Samsung Electronics made up 42 percent of smartphone sales at T-Mobile US (NYSE:TMUS) in the first quarter, Kantar found.

Kantar said Apple's iPhone 6 and 6 Plus already represent 18 percent of all iPhones in use in the U.S., and 64 percent of the iPhone installed base is an iPhone 5 or newer model. The firm said that is good news for the Apple Watch, the company's first wearable device, which can interact only with these newer models.

During Apple's quarterly earnings conference call last month, Apple CEO Tim Cook said the company was seeing a higher rate of iPhone customers switching from other platforms "than we've experienced in previous iPhone cycles." Phones running on Google's (NASDAQ: GOOG) Android  platform have had screen sizes of 5 inches or more for many years, so there may have been pent-up demand among Android users to switch to iPhones.

According to Kantar, among new iOS customers for the first quarter, 11.4 percent switched from Android, compared to 14.6 percent that made the switch during the same period in 2014, so Kantar's data does not fit with Cook's comment. However, Cook was speaking about the global iPhone market. Among new Android customers, only 5.9 percent came from iOS in the first quarter, compared to 9.8 percent in the year-ago period, Kantar found.

Despite that, Android captured 58.1 percent of the U.S. smartphone market in the first quarter, Kantar found, up slightly year-over-year. LG Electronics had a particularly strong first quarter, growing its share to 10.8 percent from 7.4 percent a year ago. LG said sales in North America jumped 66 percent year-over-year with stronger sales in mass tier smartphones like its L-series phones. LG also started selling its G Flex 2 smartphone in the U.S. during the first quarter.

Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT), meanwhile, is trying to reinvigorate its sales with Windows 10, its forthcoming platform for PCs, tablets and phones. The platform will allow Android and iOS developers to port their apps to Windows. However, Kantar found that Microsoft's U.S. smartphone market share has grown little during the past year.

"Digging a little deeper, it's easy to see the strong value proposition that the Lumia portfolio offers, as Windows phone sales in the U.S. skew towards the prepaid market (20%) and installment plans (51%)," Kantar said. "Microsoft is betting that new Windows 10 functions and the ability for developers to easily shift Android apps to Windows will make the Windows ecosystem more appealing."

For more:
- see this Kantar post

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