Why ZTE and HTC May Follow Samsung Into Styluses

Photograph by David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

ZTE and HTC are both reportedly planning large smartphones that double as small tablets, with at least one of the two expected to include a stylus with the device. The idea is to compete against Samsung’s Galaxy Note, a 5.3-inch Android smartphone with a digital pen, even though many have suggested consumers want neither a stylus with their phone nor a very large handset.

ZTE, a China-based hardware maker, specifically mentioned the Galaxy Note early this week. According to Reuters, ZTE’s head of handset strategy, Lv Qianhao, said, “We want to come up with the next generation of a Galaxy Note-type product—a combo product of handsets and tablets.” The company is looking to U.S. shores for market expansion, and given the crowded array of Android phones and tablets, a different product may be the best way to stand out from the crowd.

Facing two consecutive challenging quarters, HTC is trying to rebound, first with its HTC One devices, which are excellent phones, and perhaps later with a large phone of its own. Mobile enthusiast site Boy Genius Report has reported seeing Verizon’s summer/fall 2012 device road map, noting the company will introduce its own Galaxy Note contender this year. The large phone and small tablet will use Qualcomm’s Snapdragon S4 chip, a 5-inch 1080p HD display, updated HTC Sense software, and a Scribe digital pen.

What’s spurring on these two hardware makers even to consider such a device? Although a large phone coupled with a stylus has detractors—Steve Jobs once said in 2010, “If you see a stylus, they blew it”—Samsung’s Galaxy Note has shown there is a market for such a device, selling 5 million Galaxy Notes as of last month. That figure is sure to increase if the device is launched on T-Mobile as well, which is likely, given recent pictures of a Note with T-Mobile branding.

The large screen certainly won’t work for one-handed phone users, but it’s excellent for those who use both hands. And once the hardware is in two hands, the benefit of seeing more data on the display becomes clear. A stylus is more of a niche solution, but Samsung is trying to add value there, too, including a new suite of software to take advantage of the digital pen.

All hardware makers, with the exception of Apple, have been increasing the size of their smartphone displays of late. Part of the strategy is to include bigger batteries and more components, but also a growing number of people are using mobile devices to consume video, which can be more enjoyable on a larger display. At some point, it simply makes sense to move mobile activities to a larger slate, but at least one device maker—likely to be followed by two others—thinks there’s room for a smaller media tablet that can also handle traditional voice calls.

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