The Smartphones of Summer

By Lori Castle, Editor in Chief — June 03, 2013

As the sleepy part of the third quarter is a few weeks away (namely July and August), it’s the time of year when mobile device speculation abounds. Although there will be several releases in June, rumors are ripe for “fall”ing Apples. 

So far it’s been an iOS smartphone and tablet-free year, but it seems if you are Apple, that doesn’t matter. The company still recorded an increase of 7% in iPhone sales and 65% in iPads according to the Q2 earnings call.

The most notable launches of 2013 were BlackBerry with the Z10 and Q10 finally hitting the majority of geographies. The company even announced a lower price device (Q5) for emerging markets.

For Samsung, the hoopla was over the Galaxy S4, but they also came out with several Note devices,  the Galaxy Mega and have plans to take over the tablet space.

Here’s a roundup of some recent releases along with some talk about what might be coming down the pipe this summer and beyond.

Apple
Tim Cook, in his second appearance at D11 (The Wall Street Journal’s AllThingsD Conference), said the company has “several more game changers” ahead. But with his customary coyness, he declined to get into specifics. That doesn’t stop the rumor mill of course — most speculators agree that the next iteration of the iPhone will be a 5S, rather than a 6, that it will be released in the fall and feature a new version of the system — iOS7.

According to appleinsider.com, there have been image leaks of the components. The most revealing thing about the images? New colors. There’s really no telling what other improvements are in the works, but it’s not likely to be anything game changing.

Cook had said, “Our teams are hard at work on some amazing new hardware, software and services that we can’t wait to introduce this Fall and throughout 2014…one of our areas for growth are potential new categories, and we’re very excited about those.”

Samsung
The dominant Android manufacturer plans on releasing the Galaxy S4 Mini. The announcement came at the end of May, just a little more than a month after the S4 smartphone launched. The smaller, cheaper version of the company’s flagship device features a 4.3 inch screen.

No word yet on when it goes on sale. However, those invited will be provided hands-on product experiences at the Samsung Premiere 2013 GALAXY & ATIV, an event to be held in London, Thursday, June 20th.

Speaking of ATIV, in April, the company announced a rebranding of sorts of the Windows-based PC line, and, according to a release, “Along with this brand evolution, Samsung is introducing SideSync technology to all Windows-based PCs, the first of many new ATIV features available this year, which enables users to switch from working on their PC to an Android-based Samsung smartphone with simplicity and ease. With SideSync, your PC and mobile device become one.”

The combination of the Galaxy/ATIV event implies further compatibility between the two types of devices and OSes. Is this a further attempt to dominate the smartphone market, and will Samsung succeed where Windows phone did not?

Microsoft
And speaking of Windows— its mobile miss has been acknowledged by Bill Gates himself, and the company is looking to rectify that by “transforming  [Windows] to the new era of computing,” according to Microsoft CFO , Peter Klein, on the company’s Q2 call.

He also mentioned that “the transition is complicated, given the size of our hardware and software ecosystem.” To start, the company is literally going back to start with changes to the next version of its OS — Windows 8.1. CIO Tony Scott also just left the company, so a fresh start in leadership is on tap as well.

When it comes to devices, according to IDC, Windows had the “largest year over year gain” — more than doubling its size from a year ago. That is primarily thanks to Nokia, which, with 20.3 million units total (since it started shipping), accounts for 79% of all Windows Phones. This knocked BlackBerry down to No. 4.

Attendees at the TechEd conference, going on this week in New Orleans, can buy – on significant discount — a Surface RT for $100 or a Surface Pro for $399, via the Microsoft Retail Store.  In addition to dumping inventory, Microsoft is pushing the eventual upgrade to Windows 8.1. 

The rumor here is that the new Surface device, will debut next week, with a new mini Surface to be announced by the end of the month.

Ahead of this, Acer unveiled  the 8-inch Windows 8 tablet — the Iconia W3 — which is the company’s answer to the iPad mini. The tablet, running on Windows 8 Pro, features an Intel processor, expandable SD card storage (actual amount not known yet) and an optional Bluetooth keyboard. Retail price will be $379 but a launch date has not yet been confirmed.

Motorola Mobility
Motorola has confirmed it will be launching the Moto X smartphone as soon as this summer, along with other devices. Dennis Woodside, CEO, Motorola Mobility, also spoke at D11 and noted that the upcoming product portfolio will “show the story of where we are going to take the company.”

The new smartphone will be assembled at a Fort Worth, TX facility — in contrast to the bulk of devices which are normally produced entirely overseas, specifically China. The Fort Worth facility, a 500,000 square foot plant, was previously used for Nokia devices (about 15 years ago.) Assembling the Moto X there will likely create 2,000 jobs in the area before August.

Aside from avoiding some of the economic and labor issues associated of late with manufacturing in China and other areas in Asia, what does this reveal, about the device? Wally Swain, Senior VP of Research, Yankee Group commented, “I think this shows that the Moto X will likely be a high-end device, where labor costs are not a significant driver of end-consumer pricing. It also likely means that Google wants Motorola to keep tight control over manufacturing, by keeping assembly close to HQ.”

Google
Not just relying on its subsidiary, Motorola Mobility, Google will sell the HTC One and the Samsung Galaxy S4 through the Google Play store, starting June 26th. The latter smartphone retails for $649 while the former for $599. Both devices, available unlocked, will run on stock Android which could be described as a “vanilla OS without the skin.”

In an interview at D11, Sundar Pichai, Senior Vice President, Android, Chome & Apps, Google, said “These are the beginning steps of us thinking hard of how we can get the right user experience… in a more thoughtful manner through the ecosystem.”

BlackBerry
BlackBerry is still trying to up its marketing efforts for the BB10 platform and Z10 and Q10 devices. And the company’s go forward strategy is still being planned according to past comments from CEO Thorsten Heins. 

There’s absolutely no sign of any more smartphones forthcoming, and Heins’ (contradictory) ideas around tablets have been well documented, so don’t expect a new Playbook either.  What can you expect? Heins likes to call it: “a new world of mobile computing.”

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