This is the time of year when smartphone manufacturers start to get a bit fidgety.
New models unveiled at the Consumer Electronics Show in January or Mobile World Congress in February are mostly on the market by now, but consumers tend to start slowing up on purchases come summer as they wait for Apple’s (AAPL) next iPhone.
In the face of iPhone anticipation, releasing new phones as the “big new thing” during the summer is risky and could easily end in a launch falling flat. However, smartphones outshipped feature phones for the first time in history, creating a real battle over third place in the mobile platform war. That means the stakes are higher than ever this year, and more manufacturers are willing to roll the dice.
Here’s a look at the current smartphone landscape.
The undisputed success story so far this year has been Samsung’s Galaxy S4, a big, feature-packed Android device that sold 10 million units one month after its April 26 release. Samsung is trying to keep demand high for its flagship device by adding new colors and making a stock Android version available at the end of June.
BlackBerry (BBRY) announced its Z10 and Q10 BB10 smartphones in January. The touchscreen Z10 hit the U.S. market at the end of March, with the Q10 due the first week of June (a cheaper Q5 was announced for emerging markets). Sales have been the subject of some dispute, but they seem to be good enough to stave off conjecture about the company’s imminent demise. Whether the new BB10 phones will be sufficient to hold onto third place against a surging Windows Phone remains to be seen.
HTC’s One has been pegged as the best-looking Android smartphone available and a top performer as well, but the device has been plagued by manufacturing issues and availability challenges. The HTC First, announced at Facebook’s (FB) Home event, has been a disaster. Combined, the two devices have contributed to chaos at HTC, with a parade of executives abandoning ship.
Nokia (NOK) announced the Lumia 925, a thinner, aluminum-bodied follow-up to its successful Lumia 920 Windows smartphone. Due in June, the flagship smartphone is eagerly anticipated by Windows mobile fans who want a less hefty device, but the relatively limited market and minor spec bump in the phone’s internals resulted in the company’s stock taking a beating — not what Nokia was hoping for.
The most recent announcements come by way of Samsung and Motorola.
Yesterday, Bloomberg reported that Motorola will be releasing a new smartphone in October called the Moto X. This Android-based iPhone competitor will include innovative features such as dual processors (aimed at battery conservation) and advanced sensors capable of detecting variables like speed and whether the device is in a car. Perhaps more important from a marketing perspective, the Moto X will be “Made in the U.S.A.,” creating an estimated 2,000 manufacturing jobs in Texas, while giving Motorola some serious PR kick.
Samsung has been the king of announcements, though, determined to take any wind it can out of Apple’s iPhone launch. In addition to the forthcoming purple, blue, brown and red Galaxy S4 variants and the Google-endorsed stock Android version, the company has come up with a few notable forthcoming releases. First was the Galaxy Mega (available in 5.8-inch and 6.3-inch display sizes that dwarf even the 5-inch Galaxy S4). Available in Asia and Europe, it’s likely going to hit the U.S. sometime in the future, having been submitted for FCC approval.
The latest reveal is clearly a shot against Apple’s bow. The Galaxy S4 Mini was just confirmed, a slightly less powerful version of its flagship smartphone with a smaller, 4.3-inch display. Date and price are both to be determined, but Reuters puts the expected sticker in the $350 range, a little more than half the cost of premium smartphones like the Galaxy S4 and iPhone 5. That “Mini” moniker has been used to describe a rumored low-cost iPhone, suggesting that Samsung is trying to cut into Apple’s market and steal some of the product recognition.
What’s Apple Up To?
We’re pretty sure that Apple is going to be releasing a low-cost iPhone — that device frequently referred to in rumors as the “iPhone Mini” — and looks as though it’s going to go with a new partner to assemble it. The company has reportedly chosen Pegatron over current iPhone manufacturer Foxconn. This low-cost iPhone would tap into emerging markets as well as address U.S. buyers who would otherwise choose Android phones over an iPhone because of cost.
Naturally, the company is hard at work on its next flagship iPhone as well — either the iPhone 5S or iPhone 6 — which is expected to be released sometime in the summer or fall (traditionally, it’s been the fall). The company has also completely revamped its mobile operating system after ousting iOS chief Scott Forstall last year, so the new iPhones will also be running a new-look iOS 7.
All of the above are leading to a battle royale in the smartphone market, with the U.S. and China as ground zero and fall as the likely timeframe. The pieces are largely in place and most companies are just waiting to hear what kind of new iPhone (or iPhones) they’ll be up against.
Your move, Apple.
As of this writing, Brad Moon did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.