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What's Happening with Smartphones and Tablets?

First, the biggest news is probably Apple’s new iPhone models.  I wrote about this last week and you can see the details here. Now the results of early sales are available and the word is that a new sales level has been reached for new iPhone models.  Apple sold over 9 million units in the first three days of sales topping the analysts’ forecasts.  This is interesting because these latest models are incremental upgrades and not the next best thing.  The 5c is just essentially the original iPhone 5 in a colorful plastic case at the low price of $99 with a two-year contract.  The 5s is a mildly upgraded iPhone 5 with a 64-bit CPU, an improved camera, and a finger print sensor.  Yes, a finger print sensor.  I can’t imagine that this is a hot button feature but it has been well received.  The new gold case is the really big winner as Apple has already sold out the initial production run of gold cases.  Isn’t it interesting what sells?

The other big Apple news is the latest version of the operating system iOS 7.  I just down loaded it for my year-old iPhone 5.  It gives you a fresh new look and feel.  It works pretty much the same and has many new features I doubt I will even discover.  Anyway, it is a big hit as well.  Looks like Apple is maintaining its reputation as one of the leading smartphone vendors, second to Samsung, of course, but still top drawer.  Just how did Samsung’s Galaxy series become the number one smartphone?

With Apple and Samsung continuing to dominate the smartphone business, what is to become of all the others?  For example, Google’s Motorola has a new model called the Moto X.  It seems to be doing OK, but I doubt it will ever sell the same volume as Apple or Samsung.  And there are many other smaller players like HTC, LG and ZTE.  These guys do better in Asia where they make the phones but all are major competitors in the U.S.  The new HTC One is a good example.

The two I really worry about are Nokia and BlackBerry.  Nokia makes great smartphones but it cannot seem to catch up to Apple and Samsung.  Their Lumia line is a superior competitor but lagging in sales.  I have used the Lumia 1020 and it is a great smartphone with Windows Mobile OS.  It does everything my iPhone 5 does but it just does not seem to have the marketing cachet.  So with Nokia hurting in sales, Microsoft decided to buy them.  Microsoft is paying $7.2 billion for the Nokia handset business.  Nokia still holds on to the cellular infrastructure equipment business and their valuable mapping division.  Will Microsoft save the Nokia handset business?

And the same thing is happening with BlackBerry.  Earlier this year they launched their new Z10 smartphone and OS BB10.  It is a world-class competitive phone but has not gotten any traction in the market except for some BlackBerry loyalists.  The Q10 model with the physical, non-touch keyboard is also a super phone but not many are buying it.  BlackBerry, the original inventor of the smartphone is slowly dying.  That is why they are laying off thousands to improve their financials in the face of low sales.  Now they are being acquired for $4.7 billion by Fairfax Financial Holdings Ltd.  Will this save BlackBerry?

It troubles me to see two top smartphone makers and one time market leaders like BlackBerry and Nokia have this problem.  Their products are on par with Apple and Samsung and with some features they are even better.  But being just as good and having the same or even better features just doesn’t matter.  Sales success is all marketing, word-of-mouth, reputation, coolness factor and hype.  Hardware and software are relatively easy to fix and improve but marketing is tougher and elusive.  I doubt Microsoft’s Nokia-brand phone or the BlackBerry under new management will make it.  Would you buy one? 

As for tablets the two latest of new are Microsoft’s new Surface models and the new Amazon Kindle Fire HDX.  The new Surface models address some of the shortcomings of the original versions.  The new Surface Pro 2 is the high end unit that is really a full laptop disguised as a tablet.  It runs Microsoft Windows 8.1 and any Office product making it an attractive option to a heavier laptop.  A docking station and wireless mouse are in the works.

The lower end product is the Surface 2 that replaces the original RT model.  It is a true tablet with ARM based processor and the RT OS.  An RT-version of Office in also available. Both new models have improved battery life and an improved kickstand.  Microsoft did a good job improving these new devices that are more competitive than ever.

Amazon’s Kindle Fire was a big hit when first introduced.  This new HDX model is even better.  The top new features are the higher resolution screens in both the 7-inch and 8.9-inch models.  Both are slimmer and lighter and have improved battery life despite a faster Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 quad processor.  Kindles are basically vehicles for readers and viewers.  The new Kindles have a “Mayday” button that calls up an Amazon service rep to answer your questions about the operation or services.  Amazon keeps prices low and focuses on selling content like books, music and videos.  Wi-Fi is still the main wireless feature but 4G cellular models will be available.  If you want a tablet with a lower price and the emphasis on cloud content this is the way to go.  I haven’t succumbed to the tablet trend but if I do it will probably be to replace my original Kindle e-reader that is now four years old.  The HDX is the prime candidate.

TAGS: Wireless Blogs
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