At this rate, we're all going to need bigger pockets soon.
Smartphones keep growing, in more ways than one. Big-screen phones accounted for more than one-third of global shipments in the first quarter of 2014, according to market researcher Canalys. Global shipments of phones with screens totaling 5 inches or more grew an astonishing 369 percent in the first quarter. Compare that to a mere 29 percent growth in shipments for the smartphone market. The trend reverses the norm for electronics -- the inexhaustible drive toward ever-smaller forms.
The "bigger and better" movement's beginnings can be traced back to Asia. Samsung (SSNLF) found that Asian consumers wanted more space to make it easier for them to write characters in their native languages on the touchscreen. Samsung has been doing brisk business selling phones with relatively wide screens. Its current flagship model, the Galaxy S5, comes in at 5.1 inches.
Samsung is currently the world's top vendor, holding an estimated 31 percent of the market as of the end of the first quarter. That's nearly double the share of No. 2 Apple (AAPL).
The Market Goes Where the Leader Takes It
Apple's current 5 series of phones spans 4 inches in diagonal length, half an inch wider than that of the preceding 4 series. The famously secretive company isn't spilling the beans about its upcoming set of phones, but media reports have it that one model will boast a 4.7-inch screen, and another will span 5.5 inches.
Even Nokia (NOK), which years ago ruled the market by selling pre-smartphone basic models with tiny displays, has gone big lately. Screens in its Lumia line range from 4.5 to 6 inches.
For its first foray into smartphones, Amazon.com (AMZN) will have a 4.7-inch screen for the Fire Phone.
In Western markets, there's little or no need to trace intricate linguistic characters on a screen. Rather, what's driving the increase in size is technology and consumer demand.
One of the key reasons consumers buy a smartphone is to have robust multimedia capability at their fingertips. "Angry Birds," "Game of Thrones" and pictures of baby are more engaging for many users if they can be enjoyed on a larger display.
Tablet Trauma Ahead?
The bulking up of smartphone displays imperils tablets. Why own two devices when you can spring for a product that has the critical features of both -- a nice wide screen and a means to call people?
%VIRTUAL-article-sponsoredlinks%This has led influential market researcher IDC to shave its forecast for global sales of tablets and two-in-one (laptop PC/tablet) devices. The company now believes that 245 million units of such goods will be sold, down from the previous projection of nearly 261 million.
That decline is discouraging for Apple, which in its most recent quarter drew nearly 25 percent of its total product unit sales from the iPad line of tablets.
It's also an uncomfortable trend for other energetic tablet producers that have devoted plenty of resources to improving their offerings. Microsoft (MSFT) just introduced its Surface 3, while Amazon's top-of-the-line Fire HDX was unveiled less than a year ago to much fanfare.
Big Is Bountiful
Since every significant player on the market is jumping on the bandwagon, the big-phone trend is almost certainly here to stay. It says something that Apple is now diving headfirst into it, as former CEO Steve Jobs refused to go above a 3.5-inch screen during his tenure.
So, no matter your preferences, it looks like your smartphone is going to bulk up in the near future. Hopefully, you've got big enough hands to use it smoothly and a large enough place to store it when you're not watching movies, placing calls or recording videos with it.
Motley Fool contributor Eric Volkman has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Amazon.com and Apple, and it owns shares of Amazon.com, Apple and Microsoft.
15 Products You Can Almost Always Get for Free
Why Are Smartphones Supersizing? Look to Asia for an Answer
If you want to take a drive across the country but haven't got wheels and don't want to rent a car, there are websites like Auto Driveaway that will help you find a car to drive for someone who is moving and doesn't want to drive their own car. For the return trip, either wait for a car to drive back or book a cheap flight home. It's a great way to see the country if you have the time.
Companies want to know more about you so they can market to you. If you're willing to give up some information about yourself -- like your career title or location - you can get a free year's subscription to a variety of magazines. In recent months, we've seen popular titles like W Magazine, Wired, Wine Spectator, Maxim and Lucky, all for free.
It's a given that your friends should buy your drinks on your birthday, but before you get to the bar, keep in mind that plenty of businesses offer free things on your special day as well. The trick is to plan ahead and hit as many of them as you can.
Many restaurants offer free meals for kids if they're accompanied by a paying adult. However, some do so only on certain nights, so it's worth checking MyKidsEatFree.com to find restaurants in your area that offer free kids' meals. This site could also be handy for diners without kids who want to make sure they don't visit on nights when a throng of children is likely to be there.
Did you know that Aug. 3 is Free National Watermelon Day? Almost every day of the year is some type of national food day, and restaurants are always looking for opportunities to run promotions. Check your local restaurants, or do a Google search for your city and the free food you're looking for. While you might not be able to score freebies regularly enough to avoid ever paying for food, you can certain get at least monthly free food, drinks, and the like.
If you're a fan of phones with Google's (GOOG) operating system, then you're in luck; so many new Android smartphones are released these days that the market has become saturated -- and as a result, most models quickly fall to $0 (with new two-year contracts) after a few months. Even trendy models with lots of media hype eventually follow the same deal path; in fact, based on patterns we've seen thus far, we're predicting that the Samsung Galaxy S5 could become free with a contract as soon as this summer.
We regularly see both Newegg and Fry's Electronics offer free anti-virus software, to the extent that you could get away without ever paying for it. The caveat is that you must buy it and then redeem a rebate to make it free. But paperwork is a small price to pay in the pursuit of a good deal. If you're adverse to rebates, there are also always-free options like Avast.
Getting a full album for free can be difficult, but with the number of music credit freebies we see bundled with Amazon (AMZN) deals, you should be able to amass a stockpile of credits to purchase a number of MP3 downloads that tempt you. Amazon has about 50,000 free songs available for download. Plus, Apple's (AAPL) iTunes, Starbucks (SBUX) and other vendors tend to distribute free songs on a weekly basis. Free music downloads can be found elsewhere, too.
Besides going to the library -- which is an obvious first place to start for free books -- there are lots of ways to get free digital books. Project Gutenberg has more than 39,000 free eBooks, and there is a Free Books app for the iPad. Free e-books are listed on DealNews. If you have shelves full of physical books that you'd like to swap out, sites such as PaperBack Swap and Bookmooch allow you to mail your books to members who request them, and you can request books from others. The more books you give, the more you can receive. These sites are free to join, but the sender does pay postage.
While cutting the cable cord entirely isn't as easy as you might think, the ways to consume movies and TV without paying a cent include free streaming sites like Hulu and Amazon Prime. Keep an eye out for free movie screenings; large studios will frequently try to give a film early buzz by showing it for free to audiences. Additionally, Fandango frequently offers buy one, get one ticket deals for certain cardholders; and now that it's summertime, many parks, libraries and towns have movie nights.
While they might not always come in the exact dimensions you'd like, you can regularly find some sort of freebie photo print deal from the likes of Snapfish, Walgreen (WAG) and CVS (CVS). Shutterfly also offers regular freebies, but shipping will tack on a small fee.
Many health and beauty companies offer free samples, and like free magazines, you'll have to offer up some personal information to get the goods. Keep an eye out for free samples from Target (TGT) and Walmart (WMT). Individual brands also offer free samples of new cosmetics they're trying to promote, but if you want to skip the customary six to eight weeks for delivery, you can instead scout out free samples at drugstore counters and Sephora.
Free apps are everywhere. And at some point even the typically expensive titles see a temporary price drop. If you're particular, set up an email alert and wait for the app of your choosing to fall in price.
While you can't always wait around for free shipping when a special promotion is on the table, everyday orders that aren't time-sensitive can benefit from waiting for a shipping discount. We frequently see a variety of popular vendors offer some sort of shipping deals, which makes it hard to justify spending your cash on the service for an average order.
As a society, we often dispose of perfectly good items in the pursuit of finding something newer or better, so before you make any large purchases, because sure to check Craigslist and Freecycle for free goods. Often, people just don't want to make the effort to move or properly trash them, so you can sometimes get something substantial -- like a wardrobe or shelving unit -- without paying. It goes without saying though that you should make sure any and all items are in working order and in good shape. You don't want to be hauling away another person's junk, even if it is free.