Fall is a busy time for companies selling consumer electronics: Summer vacation is over, kids are getting back to school and the holiday season is right around the corner. Tech companies kick into overdrive at this time of year in a frenzied rush to put out the next “must-have” gadget — the one that will take advantage of these opportunities and rack up record quarterly sales.
For those who have lost track of all the new gear about to hit the shelves, here are the ones you should watch.
The Hottest New Gadgets
Under the ownership of Google (NASDAQ:GOOG), Motorola Mobility came out swinging with a trio of new RAZR Android-powered smartphones: the RAZR M, RAZR HD and DROID RAZR MAXX HD. Motorola’s Kevlar-backed phones gain bigger displays (the HD versions boosting all the way up to 4.7-inches with 1,280 x 768 resolution), spec bumps and Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich), while Android 4.1 (Jellybean) is on the way.
The MAXX HD crams that big display into a compact body and adds extreme battery life to the HD’s specs — a supposed 21 hours of talk time, 13 hours of video playback or 32 hours of “mixed use.” The new DROID RAZRs are Verizon (NYSE:VZ) exclusives and will be available in time for the holidays.
Nokia (NYSE:NOK) and Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) staged a joint media event to announce Nokia’s newest Lumia smartphones. Things could have gone a bit smoother, though: Samsung took some of the wind out of Nokia’s sails by announcing the first Windows Phone 8-powered device just days before the event, there was controversy over a clumsily-faked video purportedly shot with one of the new phones and release dates were left hazy.
However, despite the stumbles, the new Lumias impressed — particularly the flagship Lumia 920, which is offered in attractive case colors, features a very bright and big 4.5-inch HD display, includes wireless charging and offers a premium PureView camera with optical image stabilization and a Carl Zeiss lens.
Samsung may be smarting from its courtroom loss to Apple, but that didn’t prevent the world’s biggest smartphone maker from moving forward and announcing new products. As we just mentioned, the company hedged its Android bet by announcing the ATIV S, the world’s first Windows Phone 8 smartphone — a device that boasts a monster, 4.8-inch screen.
A few weeks later, it also announced the Galaxy Note II, the stylus-sporting smartphone/tablet hybrid with a 5.5-inch display.
Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) held one of the most-anticipated events of all, and CEO Jeff Bezos unveiled new Kindle Fire HD tablets — $199, 7-inch versions to compete with Google’s Nexus-7 and a big, 8.9-inch display version with 4G (and an Amazon subsidized data plan) that will compete against the iPad.
It also dropped the price of the existing Kindle Fire tablet to just $159, while boosting its performance and battery life. Finally, Amazon also released a new Paperwhite Kindle e-reader that sets a higher bar for high-contrast, high-resolution, front-lit e-readers.
Winners and Losers
On the tablet front, everyone is still waiting for one very big shoe to drop: Apple’s rumored iPad Mini. All signs are pointing to a huge quarter for tablet makers and the real fight (and growth) is expected to be on the 7-inch front, where low prices should attract tablet holdouts and parents looking to buy for their kids. If Apple releases the iPad Mini in October as expected, expect it to take the lion’s share of that market.
Google’s Nexus-7 unseated the original Kindle Fire as the top-selling Android tablet, and the new Amazon tablets will make it a dogfight between these two for dominance over what’s left. With a lower price point and Amazon.com integration, though, expect Amazon to pull back ahead of Google. Microsoft’s Surface tablets are a wildcard, but I don’t expect them to have a huge impact on the consumer market this year.
Nokia’s Lumia phones are beautiful and provide a visual showcase for Windows Phone 8, but that Microsoft tie may just doom them to being an also-ran. Nokia can’t release the phones until Windows Phone 8 is ready and Microsoft is still rushing to complete its new mobile operating system. It’s a shame, but between the botched reveal and an uncertain release schedule, Nokia may have flubbed what should have been a real opportunity to regain a chunk of lost market share.
Samsung is the world’s biggest seller of smartphones and despite losing an epic court battle to Apple (which may see some of its most popular devices barred from the U.S.), should recover quickly and keep plowing forward as the iPhone’s primary competitor.
Motorola Mobility has some compelling smartphones and the DROID RAZR MAXX HD’s battery life should make it a top choice among buyers who crave a big screen, but the Verizon exclusivity may cut into potential sales and Samsung has momentum.
When it comes to smartphones, the big winner will unsurprisingly be Apple, though, as the company is going to kill it with the iPhone 5. This is not a revolutionary device, nor is it necessarily the best smartphone out there, but it is the best Apple smartphone. Plus, there are months of pent up demand and it will be available not long after being announced.
People will line up to buy it.
As of this writing, Brad Moon did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.