September's smartphone goldrush - Mobile World Live

September’s smartphone goldrush

03 SEP 2012

It’s been a quiet summer. While the mobile industry often feels like a non-stop rollercoaster, it seems it is not averse to shutting down and going on holiday for a few months, weather permitting. In newspaper parlance, this period is known as the ‘silly season’ as editors resort to filling their pages with frivolous nonsense in lieu of any substantial news. This is why you are likely to have read a great deal in the last few months about who is buying RIM or Nokia, or what might or might not be included in some new device that may or may not actually be released sometime soon.

A big cheer, then, for the end of summer and the onset of September, which promises great riches in the form of a glut of major new device launches, and lots of stuff for us to write about. And thankfully that means real products, not speculation, leaks or hearsay.

Samsung, the world’s largest handset vendor, is already out of the blocks, unveiling a new smartphone, the ATIV S, running the previously unseen Windows Phone 8 in Berlin last week. That launch came just days after the South Korean giant was slapped with a US$1.05 billion fine following the conclusion of its patents case with Apple – a development that many think will see Samsung forced to diversify away from its infringing Android products.

If the patents furore succeeds in paralysing the Android ecosystems, WP8 will be the most likely port of call for vendors such as Samsung (and HTC, ZTE, Sony and others) looking for alternatives. That’ll be great news for Microsoft, but something of a double-edged sword for the beleaguered Nokia, which may see its position as the premier Windows Phone-maker challenged. And not just in the eyes of consumers, but in Microsoft’s opinion too.

Indeed, Samsung’s unveiling of the first WP8 smartphone may have already stolen some of Nokia’s thunder as the Finnish vendor gears up to showcase its new Lumia phones at an event in New York this week. The Lumia range has only clocked up modest sales to date (despite a huge marketing push), and Nokia can’t afford many more flops.

Across town, and on the same day, Motorola will be overseeing its first major device launch since being acquired by Google. We can be sure of at least two things: it will run Android, and (being initially for Verizon Wireless) it will be equipped with LTE. But the big selling point for potential punters will be its anticipated ‘edge-to-edge’ screen.

Motorola has another launch event pencilled in on 18 September in London where it is expected to unveil its first Intel-powered smartphone.

Topping both the Nokia and Microsoft launches this week could be the news coming out of Amazon. The online retail giant is expected to show-off the successor to its Kindle Fire – and possibly also announce the availability of its ground-breaking tablet outside of the US.

There’s also a new quad-core LG smartphone running Qualcomm’s new Snapdragon S4 Pro platform that is expected to launch in South Korea this month.

Which brings us to ‘the big one.’ At the time of writing, Apple hasn’t even got round to sending out invites for its scheduled press event this week (mine always seems to get lost in the post). But everything points to an event at its Californian HQ next Wednesday (12 September) where the firm will let the world see the new iPhone for the first time.

The launch of a new iPhone is always a big deal, but this one is especially big. It will be the first major design overhaul of the iconic product since the iPhone 4 replaced the iPhone 3GS in 2010 (last year’s iPhone 4S upgraded many components but looked the same to the untrained eye). It is thought that the new model will be thinner and will feature a larger screen – possibly up half an inch to 4-inches – and will sit in a new brushed aluminium casing. Even the iconic white earphones are understood to have been redesigned for the first time in the iPhone’s lifetime. Those who claim to know about these things say the upcoming device is the last thing Steve Jobs worked on prior to his passing a year ago. For an Apple devotee, that makes the new device on a par with the ark of the covenant.

There are plenty of unknowns. The new device is likely to support LTE in the US, but who knows what approach Apple will take in markets that run 4G at different frequencies? Will it include an NFC chip? Will the long-standing 30-pin connector be phased out? And will it even be called the ‘iPhone 5’ – or revert to a non-denominated ‘iPhone’, following the branding strategy used on the latest iPad?

All these questions should be answered next week. In the meantime, Samsung, Nokia, Motorola and the rest should enjoy their time in the sun because the silly season is about to come to an end.
Matt Ablott

The editorial views expressed in this article are solely those of the author(s) and will not necessarily reflect the views of the GSMA, its Members or Associate Members