Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL)! Who cares about its $355 billion market cap or its all-encompassing influence on the PC industry thanks to the iPad’s monumental popularity? No one, that’s who! There are 499 other companies on Fortune‘s annual list, and a large number of them are competing with Apple in a variety of segments in the technology industry. Those companies are gunning for Apple in 2012.
At the beginning of 2011, plenty of companies were planning to do the same. Motorola Mobility (NYSE:MMI), Research in Motion (NASDAQ:RIMM) and many others were planning to hit hard with their own tablets, but the Xoom and PlayBook were all but ignored by consumers when they came out earlier this year. Intel (NASDAQ:INTC), looking to compete with the slim MacBook Air laptop line, pushed its new Ultrabook laptop architecture, but so far, early-adopting manufacturers such as Asus have found little success.
In these closing weeks, though, Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) has made some headway against the Cupertino, Calif.-based giant thanks to the early success of the Kindle Fire tablet. Apple is not impregnable, it turns out. So what’s being released in 2012 that can further rattle Tim Cook’s house? Read on:
Microsoft’s Windows 8
Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) isn’t going to have fans lined up around the block outside its stores clamoring for Windows 8. That doesn’t mean Windows 8 won’t be a big moment for Microsoft. The operating system represents nothing less than the company’s future in personal computers — a product that is meant to sync the user experience on all of its devices in much the way that Apple and Google are trying to do. Windows 8 will be the model for how people use Microsoft’s products on PCs, phones, tablets and probably the next Xbox. If Microsoft can create a unified experience on all those platforms and users respond to it, the company might just recapture some of that mindshare it has lost to its competitors.
Google and Motorola Tablet
Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) has worked hard to downplay its acquisition of Motorola as a move to more directly engage the hardware market. The company insists that it’s not trying to take on Apple directly by making its own smartphones and tablets. It’s hard not to imagine Google not trying to take the reins of the Android tablet market when it has its own manufacturer in 2012. Motorola’s attempts to penetrate the market with the Xoom, and more recently in the UK with Xoom 2, have failed. Google and Motorola’s tablet will, like the official Google phone Nexus, be built specifically to suit the Android operating system’s strengths and weaknesses. Google also can play up its strengths versus Amazon’s Kindle Fire, a device that uses Android put performs sluggishly.
Can Nokia (NYSE:NOK) become the biggest smartphone vendor in the world again? If it’s going to happen, the climb back starts with the Lumia. Nokia’s first major Windows phone under its much-publicized partnership with Microsoft is due out in the United States during the first quarter of 2012, and the device’s early reception abroad has been more than positive. Right now it looks as if Lumia will be the first big smartphone release of 2012.
HP Windows Tablet
Considering the HP TouchPad failed so badly that it seemed to have ended the company’s time as a manufacturer of mobile phones and tablets in August, a new Hewlett-Packard (NYSE:HPQ) tablet shouldn’t inspire confidence. The company is committed to staying in the tablet market, though, and there’s a product where it could find great success: a budget Windows tablet. HP certainly didn’t plan on the TouchPad selling out at retailers once it hit $99, but it certainly noticed. As of now, there’s still room to go lower on tablet price. Amazon gained traction in the market by selling at $200, and a $99 device could prove even more successful. Whether now is the time for HP to try to corner the price-conscious consumer market is a moot point.
As this list makes clear, 2012 is going to be a big year for Microsoft. Some rumors suggest that the successor to the popular Xbox 360 will release in 2013, but others, such as Tech Radar, expect Microsoft to show the new machine as early as the Consumer Electronics Show in January. Microsoft is bringing in a new lead for its design-and-experience team as well, according to a recent CNET report, which means the new Xbox likely will aim to further broaden the brand’s reach beyond video games. While products like Kinect have helped give the six-year-old Xbox 360 its second consecutive year of record-breaking sales, the technology is aging, and a new device will help Microsoft better sell new services like Xbox TV.
As of this writing, Anthony John Agnello did not own a position in any of the stocks named here. Follow him on Twitter at @ajohnagnello and become a fan of InvestorPlace on Facebook. Check out InvestorPlace.com’s other looks back at 2011 and ahead to 2012 here.