The biggest names in the world of technology are about to find out exactly what it takes to convince consumers to give up their iPhones.
A number of smartphone and tablet makers launched a slew of high-end devices this week, hoping to cash-in on the holiday shopping season and the possibility of consumer fatigue with Apple Inc.'s iPhone – the dominant device in the market for years.
But despite huge advances in technology and design from Apple's main competitors, getting iPhone and iPad fans to try anything else is still a major challenge. On Wednesday, Nokia Corp. and Motorola Mobility – the latter now owned by Google Inc. – both unveiled new phones aimed at competing with the iPhone.
For Nokia especially, the stakes could not be higher. The company that once ruled the international cell phone market has largely missed the smartphone revolution, and now pins its hopes on a partnership with Microsoft Corp. to develop phones that run on a new version of Windows.
Early reaction to Nokia's two new additions to the Lumia line of smartphones on Wednesday were mixed. Investors sent Nokia shares down 13 per cent after the new phones were announced. And while critics praised the design and hardware specifications of the devices, they were not convinced the phone would lure away iPhone fans.
"Will you switch from your iPhone or top end Android for this thing? After a few minutes with it, it's a resounding... maybe," wrote a reviewer on the influential tech blog Gizmodo .
Independent technology expert Carmi Levy said the new Nokia phones sport great hardware, but the number of apps on the Windows mobile platform still doesn't come anywhere near the volume of apps available for iPhones and smartphones running Google's Android operating system.
"Until the software side of the Nokia/Microsoft partnership is answered, it's difficult to confidently predict that this phone – and others like it – will survive, much less thrive," he said. "The good news for Nokia is that it's giving it everything it has, which gives consumers a compelling new alternative to iPhones and Android phones."
But Nokia is far from the only company looking to challenge Apple's dominance in the coming months. In fact, virtually every major player in the mobile device world has new products in the works, hoping that, after a years-long love affair, consumers will finally tire of Apple's phones and tablets.
This fall, Microsoft plans to spend billions on rapidly boosting its footprint in the mobile market. Perhaps its most high-profile effort is the release of the Surface tablet, the first in-house tablet from the company. Due out in October, Surface is designed primarily to compete with the iPad, and will come in two flavours – a cheaper one that runs apps and a more expensive one that functions in much the same way as Windows for desktops.
Microsoft hopes the new tablet will spur interest in Windows 8, the latest version of its flagship operating system, also due out this fall. But there are plenty of risks for the company. For one thing, an in-house tablet could alienate some of Microsoft's hardware partners, who also build tablets and will now have to compete with what was once an ally. In addition, Microsoft's previous attempts to design its own mobile hardware – specifically, smartphones – have largely failed.
The latest Samsung Galaxy smartphone did something last month few would have expected – it beat the iPhone in sales. Granted, the Galaxy only recently hit stores, while iPhone sales are dwindling in large part because consumers expect a new model in just a few weeks, but still, even a short-term victory is good news for Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd., which has been by hit by Apple with a barrage of lawsuits in recent months.
Perhaps as a result of those lawsuits, some of which haven't gone Samsung's way, the company is now looking to diversify its line of mobile devices.
Samsung is now building devices that run on the new Windows mobile operating system from Microsoft. For both Microsoft and Samsung, such a move would have its benefits, as it gives the hardware maker a Plan B, while giving consumers more exposure to Micorosft's software. Expect new Windows-based devices from Samsung this Fall.
Amazon.com Inc. has quietly made a dent in the otherwise iPad-dominated tablet market. With the Kindle Fire, released last November, the online retailer hoped to leverage the massive size and popularity of its online store to convince its customers to pick up the hardware. In many ways, the strategy worked, and the Kindle Fire became one of the few tablets to gain a loyal following.
Amazon will build on that success with two new versions of the Fire – a seven-inch and 10-inch device. Because the Fire tends to be relatively cheap, it is unlikely to convince anyone looking for a high-end tablet to move away from the iPad, but it likely will allow Amazon to continue slowly building a fan base for its burgeoning hardware business.
Research In Motion
Of all the major players, Research In Motion Ltd. will be the last to the party. After another delay, the new line of BlackBerrys now won't hit market until the first quarter of next year.
When the new BlackBerrys do come out, expect at least two versions – a full touchscreen and a device with a physical keyboard. Both phones will run on RIM's new BlackBerry 10 operating system, and their success will go a long way toward determining whether RIM can ever regain its lead in the smartphone market.
As its competitors prepare for an all-out assault, the iPhone maker isn't sitting still. Apple made it official this week: the new iPhone will be announced on Sept. 12.
But while nobody actually knows what new feature the iPhone 5 will sport, it's a safe bet the phone will look significantly different than previous models – one of the biggest criticisms of the iPhone 4S, released last October, was that it didn't look all that different from the previous version. This time around, expect a bigger screen on the new iPhone, in no small part as a response to the blowout success of Samsung devices that have given users much more screen real estate. On the other end of the spectrum, Apple is also expected to release a version of the iPad with a smaller screen, aimed at the booming 7-inch tablet market.