Somewhat lost in the hoopla surrounding the recently announced news that Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) had finally inked a deal with China's largest mobile carrier, China Mobile, was a tidbit from Nokia (NYSE:NOK) that should have fans of Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) feeling even better about the coming year.
In the world of mobile, nothing garners attention like Apple, which is why some may have missed, or possibly discounted, the impact of Nokia rolling out its new-ish Lumia 1320 phablet in China -- ahead of schedule, mind you. As Microsoft absorbs Nokia's mobile business in the coming months, its phablet line-up -- generally considered mobile devices with screens in the five to seven inch range -- could absolutely explode in the phablet-loving Asia-Pacific region.
Worldwide phablet market share in Q3 of this year accounted for 21% of all smartphones sold, according to IDC, up from a mere 3% in 2012's third quarter. While phablets are growing in popularity around the globe, the Asia-Pacific region is leading the way, in large part because of the availability of lower-end devices -- which fits right into Nokia's and Microsoft's Lumia 1320 wheelhouse.
And it's not only the big markets like China and India that offer tremendous growth opportunities in phablet sales. In South Korea, for example, phablets already make up a whopping 41% of overall smartphone market share. And in Taiwan, phablets are expected to reach 40% of all smartphone devices sold in the coming year.
But what about Apple and its deal with China Mobile, you ask? Certainly that will put sales pressure on Nokia/Microsoft's Asia-Pacific phablet efforts.
Not for a while, if ever. Never short on rumors, the good news for Microsoft fans is that that's all Apple has offered up in the phablet arena: rumors. Hard to imagine Apple not wanting what some expect will be a $46 billion market this year, one that will only grow from there, but it will be late to the game if it ever does decide to play.
Nice move, Microsoft
The much-ballyhooed Windows Phone update a couple of months ago included a few handy features, including a driver mode to limit notifications while in transit and some new apps to make users' lives a little easier. But the changes that will really make a difference in Microsoft's mobile efforts were making it compatible with the larger screen sizes of phablets and improving its resolution.
Not coincidentally, Microsoft's Windows Phone update came about a week prior to Nokia World, the device maker's annual gathering for unveiling new toys and sharing announcements. The deal to acquire Nokia's mobile business hasn't quite come to fruition, but clearly the two longtime partners have been working as if the deal is done for some time. And there's no doubt the rollout of the Lumia 1320 in China received the blessing of all parties in advance.
Final Foolish thoughts
The introduction of phablets to China, and across the entire Asia-Pacific region before long, wasn't supposed to happen until early next year, according to Nokia's announcement at the World event. And making the news public shortly after Apple spread the good word about its own deal in China may have just been happenstance -- or maybe not.
Coincidence or not, the Asia-Pacific region is a phablet hot-bed and Microsoft is poised to take full advantage, with Apple nowhere in sight. Sure, Apple's China Mobile deal got the press, and it may give its meandering share price the jump-start iFans are hoping for. But when it comes to phablets, it'll be Microsoft investor's smiling all the way to the bank in 2014.
Fool contributor Tim Brugger has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Apple. The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple, China Mobile, and Microsoft. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.