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Bigger is better: Consumers worldwide want phablets

Aaron Pressman
How the iPhone 6 and iPhone phablet compare to current flagships from Apple and Samsung

Consumers around the world are eager to buy smartphones, especially the larger-screened models known as phablets, according to a global survey by consulting firm Accenture.

Of the 23,000 people polled in almost two dozen countries, 57% plan to buy a new smartphone in the next year, the survey found. And almost half, 48%, of intended buyers want a model with a five- to seven-inch screen, Accenture said.

Demand for larger screens is one factor that has helped propel phones running Google’s (GOOGL) Android software past Apple’s (AAPL) iPhone over the past few years. Samsung (005930.KS), for example, offers its flagship Galaxy S5 phone with a 5.1-inch screen and the Galaxy Note 3 with a 5.7-inch screen.

Apple, which has so far ignored the phablet trend, is widely rumored to be prepping new iPhone models with screens larger then the company’s current four-inch units. That could give Apple a big boost in developing markets, where phablets are most desired and overall smartphone sales are growing most quickly, according to the Accenture survey.

In India, 67% of consumers are leaning towards a larger screen model, in addition to 66% in China, 61% in Indonesia and 64% in Turkey. By contrast, In the United States, only 40% were seeking a larger screen and just 30% in Germany and 19% in Japan.

Demand for larger-screen phones may be cutting into demand for tablets. Sales of tablets slowed in the first quarter after more than doubling in each of the previous three years. Some consumers who may not be able to afford, or may not want to carry, both a phone and a tablet appear to be buying phablets as an acceptable compromise.

Substantially fewer people plan to buy a tablet than a smartphone, though the desire for larger screens also extends to this category of devices, Accenture found. While 44% of total respondents are planning to buy a tablet this year, almost three-quarters, or 72%, are seeking a full-size model. Only 20% wanted a mini-tablet and 8% had yet to decide.

Also, more tablet buyers than smartphone buyers are opting for that form factor for the first time. Only 9% of those intending to buy a smartphone don't currently own one, Accenture found. Among tablet buyers, however, 27% are first timers.