NEW YORK - It was a big week for gadget announcements as Amazon, Nokia and Motorola all tried to generate interest in their products before Apple's expected announcement of a new iPhone Wednesday.
Amazon announced four new Kindle Fire models and a new line of stand-alone e-readers on Thursday, a day after Nokia and Motorola unveiled five new smartphones between them.
Makers of consumer electronics are refreshing their products for the holiday shopping season. Apple's rivals are hoping that a head start on the buzz will translate into stronger sales.
Nokia and Microsoft, in particular, are trying to generate interest in a new Windows operating system out next month. The two phones announced last Wednesday by Nokia are its first to run Windows Phones 8.
Sales of Apple's iPhones are still strong, though the company lost the lead in smartphones to Samsung this year. Samsung Electronics Co. benefited from having its Galaxy S III out in the U.S. in June, while Apple was still selling an iPhone model released last October. A new iPhone is expected as early as this month, allowing Apple to recapture the attention and the revenue.
Apple dominates the market for tablet computers. Seven out of every 10 tablets shipped in the second quarter were iPads, according to research firm IHS iSuppli.
Rivals have been trying to compete with smaller, cheaper models -- such as Amazon's Kindle Fire. On Thursday, Amazon announced new models, including ones with screens nearly as large as the iPad's.
Now there's speculation that Apple will be coming out with a smaller iPad as well.
Here's a look at what to expect:
Apple Inc. has come out with a new iPhone each year, and that's likely to continue. The new model is expected to work with fourth-generation, or 4G, cellular networks that phone companies have been building. That capability is something the S III and many other iPhone rivals already have. A bigger iPhone screen is also possible.
Apple will host an event in San Francisco next Wednesday. The topic wasn't disclosed, but the email invitation contains a shadow in the shape of a "5" -- a sign that the iPhone 5 is coming. Sales usually begin a week or two after such an announcement.
One thing is known: Apple plans to update its phone software this fall and will ditch Google's mapping service for its own, as a rivalry between the two companies intensify.
Apple has done well selling its full-sized tablet computer, which has a screen that measures nearly 10 inches diagonally. Many companies have tried to come out with iPad alternatives, but the ones that have had moderate success have tended to be those with smaller, 7-inch screens and lower price tags.
There's speculation that Apple will come out with a mini iPad this fall -- possibly with a 7.85-inch screen -- to compete with those competitors. It's not as much a certainty as a new iPhone, though. Apple hasn't said anything about its plans.
REKINDLING THE FIRE
Amazon.com Inc.'s 7-inch Kindle Fire is one of the smaller tablets with decent sales. Starting next Friday, it will sell an updated version with a faster processor, more memory and longer battery life. It will also cut the price to $159, from $199, making it far cheaper than the iPad, which starts at $399 for the 2011 version still on sale. (The most recent ones start at $499.)
Amazon is also releasing higher-end models under the Kindle Fire HD line. A 7-inch one will go for $199, while an 8.9-inch one will go for $299. There's also a $499 model that can use the 4G cellular networks that phone companies have been building. A data plan will cost an extra $50 a year. The smaller HD model will start shipping next week, while the larger ones will be available Nov. 20.
Amazon also refreshed its line of stand-alone e-readers, offering the Paperwhite, with its own light source. Tablets such as the iPad and the Fire don't work as well in bright light because they are lit from the back. Amazon says the light on the Paperwhite is directed down at the display.
Barnes and Noble Inc., which makes the 7-inch Nook Tablet, may have an update this fall as well.
Though it's a pioneer in the cellphone industry, Motorola hasn't had a hit since the Razr phone came out in 2004. Under new owner Google Inc., Motorola Mobility is trying to change that.
On Wednesday, Motorola announced three new smartphones bearing the Razr name. Verizon Wireless started taking orders for the first of the new phones, the Droid Razr M. It's a cheaper, smaller phone than the Razr that Motorola launched last year. The $99 Razr M will be in stores next Thursday, the day after Apple's announcement.
Motorola will have two high-end models, the Razr HD and Razr Maxx HD, later this year. It's emphasizing long battery life -- up to 21 hours of talk time for the Maxx HD, or 10 hours of video streaming.
These are the first major products from Motorola since Google bought the company for $12.4 billion in May. Google,
meanwhile, continues to sell a 7-inch Android tablet, the Nexus 7, made in partnership with AsusTek Computer Inc.
CALLING ON WINDOWS
Microsoft Corp. will release a new version of the Windows operating system on Oct. 26, one that's designed to work on both traditional computers and tablet devices. A new version of the Windows Phone system is coming out, too.
Once-dominant phone maker Nokia Corp. has been struggling in the shadow of Apple and Android, and it's counting on the new Windows system for a revival. On Wednesday, Nokia and Microsoft unveiled two new devices under Nokia's Lumia brand -- the 820 and the 920.
Nokia CEO Stephen Elop says the new phones will go on sale in the fourth quarter in "select markets." He didn't say what they would cost or which U.S. carriers would have them. Investors were disappointed, and Nokia's stock fell 16 percent on Wednesday.
Samsung, which surpassed Nokia as the world's largest maker of mobile phones in 2011 and overtook Apple in smartphones this year, showed off a Windows 8 phone last week. It didn't announce an availability date either.
Microsoft plans its own tablet computer, too. It's new territory for Microsoft, which typically leaves it to others to make devices using its software. Now, it will be competing against its partners.
The Surface tablet will come in two versions, both with 10.6-inch screens, slightly larger than the iPad's. One model will run on phone-style chips, just like the iPad, and will be sold for a similar price. A heavier, more expensive version will run on Intel chips and be capable of running standard Windows applications. The Surface will go on sale on Oct. 26.
A year ago Research In Motion Ltd. disclosed that it was working on a next-generation phone system for the BlackBerry, which now looks ancient next to the iPhone and Android devices. It was supposed to be out in time for this year's holiday season. That won't happen.
In June RIM pushed the release of BlackBerry 10 devices into early next year, saying it wasn't ready. That means RIM will not only compete with the new iPhone and Android devices out this fall, but it will also have to contend with the new Windows devices.