A good deal of new smartphones introduced last week and their manufacturers have a similarity – all face an almost insurmountable challenge against Apple and Samsung in what is quickly turning into a head-on rivalry between two industry leaders.
On Wednesday, Nokia and Motorola revealed new flagship smartphones intended to catch up with the Apple iPhone and Samsung Galaxy devices.
The next day, Amazon, the world’s largest online retailer, unveiled at an event in Santa Monica, California new versions of its Kindle lineup of tablets and e-readers, including the new Kindle Fire HD.
The 4G LTE Amazon tablet probably was the most notable launch during the past week, as it added a $499 device to its lineup that will go neck and neck against the iPad.
So far, Apple’s tablet has eaten up almost all shares of the tablet market, accounting for around two-thirds of total sales worldwide.
Meanwhile, Amazon also unveiled updated versions of its other devices with lower prices:
- the $159 Kindle Fire tablet,
- the $179 Kindle Paperwhite 3G+Wi-Fi,
- the $119 Kindle Paperwhite Wi-Fi, and
- the $69 Kindle.
Less than two weeks ago, Samsung expanded its popular Galaxy lineup of smartphones for the holidays with the Galaxy Note 2, whereas Sony updated its Xperia smartphones and tablets.
Product launches from Nokia, Motorola, Amazon, Samsung, and Sony – recent moves from five of the largest companies in mobile consumer electronics that highlights how modern computing, digital content, and media consumption are rapidly shifting to a mobile world.
These seemingly rapid and successive announcements during the course of only two weeks are not accidental; they are designed to steal the spotlight from Apple’s upcoming product launches, starting with a major event three days from now.
For rival companies, introducing new devices before the fruit-themed tech giant unveils its own improves chances to gain traction in the mobile market.
The better part of the last few years saw how new iPhones’ launches overshadowed all succeeding product launches from competing smartphone makers; accordingly, when the iPhone goes on sale by the holiday season, it ends as the bestselling smartphone.
At the very least, this had been the case for the lucrative U.S. market.
Apple has announced an event on 12 September in San Francisco, where it is expected to reveal a new iPhone.
Consequently, which has been the trend for several years now, the new iPhone is widely expected to be one of the bestselling tech products in the holiday season – the market seems to agree with this as Apple is reaching new records in stock price, and analysts are projecting 40 million unit sales or more for the last quarter of 2012.
Again, the iPhone topping its smartphone rivals over the Holidays had been, at the very least, true for the U.S. market.
Apple is also widely expected to hold an October event where it will separately reveal a new but smaller tablet dubbed as the mini iPad.
If it does arrive, the device has the potential to elicit competition against products from Amazon, Google, and Samsung – the major companies who are selling 7-inch tablets with prices starting at $199.
Late last month, Will Power of Robert W. Baird mentioned a survey by his securities firm hinting strong demand from tablet owners and non-owners for a smaller iPad.
He wrote that consumers looked more interested in an 8-inch iPad version if it sells for around $250.
“Of our over 1,000 survey respondents, 46% said that they would purchase a smaller iPad if Apple made one,” Power added.
Amazon unveiled on Thursday two new versions of its Android tablet, the 7-inch and 8.9-inch Kindle Fire HD tablets.
Both versions are further subdivided into two:
- a $199 7-inch Kindle Fire HD 16GB,
- a $249 7-inch Kindle Fire HD 32GB,
- a $299 8.9-inch Kindle Fire HD 16GB, and
- a $369 8.9-inch Kindle Fire HD 32GB.
Amazon also wants to face Apple at the top tier with its $499 Kindle Fire 4G LTE tablet, which has an associated data plan of only $50 per year and 250MB per month.
“Amazon clearly wants to compete across the spectrum, not just on the low end of the market,” wrote Macquarie’s Ben Schachter in a note to clients last week.
Considering the online retailer’s quick pace of hardware investments and the rumors of an upcoming smartphone, Schachter said Amazon as a company will transform in a few years.
Last week, the smartphone market followed smaller players as they made new attempts to regain shares.
Nokia, the one-time top mobile phone vendor before a steep decline when it shifted from its Symbian OS to Windows Phone, unveiled two new Lumia phones that run on Windows Phone 8, the latest mobile operating system from Microsoft.
Investors looked unimpressed with Nokia’s announcement for a two-day period; the company’s US-listed shares dropped 13 percent within the last five days, but are slowly rising again.
One fear of investors is the potential delay of Windows Phone 8’s release, which could disfavor the Nokia Lumia 920 and Lumia 820 against the new iPhone.
On Thursday, Barclay’s Jeff Kvaal wrote to the WSJ, “We believe the Lumia 920/820 lack sufficient differentiation versus rivals and may not ship in volume in [the fourth quarter].”
A few hours later, Motorola Mobility, the recently completed acquisition of Google, unveiled new versions of its Droid Razr range of smartphones – one with a smaller-screen $99 version that will hit shelves next week.
Analysts expect Apple will keep its title as the king of new device sales for the fourth quarter, with the next iPhone expected to have a thinner design, faster 4G LTE wireless connectivity, and better display.
“We anticipate that iPhone 5 will drive a significant product cycle and put a lot of pressure on competitors,” Sterne Agee’s Shaw Wu predicted on Thursday.
He mentioned the jump from iPhone 4 to iPhone 4S was a relatively small upgrade that played up Siri, the accompanying voice assistant in iOS 5.
A record number of iPhone 4S devices were sold during the fourth quarter of last year, and Wu predicted 45 million iPhone units sold in that period.
However, the Galaxy S3 is proving to be a runaway hit for Samsung, with new data suggesting the flagship smartphone has toppled the Apple iPhone 4S as the top selling smartphone in the US.
“The development marks the first time since the iPhone 4S was launched in October of last year that the Apple smartphone was not the best selling smartphone in the country,” wrote Social Barrel’s Solon Harmony Dolor.
“The data comes from Canacord Genuity which sent out a note authored by its analyst Michael Walkley to clients on Tuesday.”