Yesterday the first reviews of Microsoft's Surface RT tablet came out. (RT is the iPad competitor starting at $499; a more laptop-like Windows Pro tablet will debut later at higher cost.) There were some positive reviews, a bunch of mixed reviews and a few that were largely negative. Here's a sampling of comments:
Many of the reviews argue and hope that the RT tablet will improve over time and that a second or third generation version of the device will be significantly better after Microsoft addresses some of the weaknesses, bugs and criticisms.
Surface RT had appeared to be off to a good start, selling out pre-orders. However one tech blog, critical of the device and calling it dead on arrival, suggests that the majority of the pre-order sales were to Microsoft itself for employees:
I've heard that Microsoft made 250,000 initial Surface RT tablets, half of which (125,000) were the now sold-out 32GB model. But of those 125,000 tablets, a full 80,000 were purchased by Microsoft itself for employees. That means only 45,000 consumers and corporate IT managers have plunked down for Surface RT.
It's hard to know how much credibility to assign to such a claim. If it's true however it indicates either a lack of public awareness or a lack of interest.
While Windows Pro tablets will compete with higher-end laptops (at similar higher prices), RT competes with the iPad and the larger Android tablets. In that context, given the mixed reviews, Surface RT will probably struggle. Accordingly the first generation device probably will only see modest sales, suffering essentially the same fate as Windows Phones have suffered to date.
The broader Windows 8 operating system has received many positive reviews but some very mixed ones as well. Microsoft is praised for boldly overhauling the PC OS but dinged for creating potential confusion for consumers. There have been a few Microsoft observers who have even predicted "disaster" for the company.
The Windows 8 handsets are shortly to be released as well. The Nokia Lumia 920 has been lauded for its design but the device is no blockbuster or savior for Nokia or Microsoft in the mobile arena.
With potential consumer confusion over Windows 8 (the OS) and the probability that Microsoft powered handsets and tablets will be overshadowed by Apple and Android devices in holiday sales, the company is unlikely to get the immediate sales boost it needs. Indeed, the new Microsoft tablets and Windows Phone 8 devices were supposed to reset the company for the new multi-platform era. However so far it appears that Microsoft has right now only made a kind of down payment on potential future gains.
Carrier backed US mobile payments initiative ISIS is finally live in two cities (Austin and Salt Lake City) this week after several delays. ISIS relies on near-field communications (NFC) and is very similar to rival Google Wallet, which also uses NFC technology. Like Google Wallet, ISIS will work at merchant locations with NFC-enabled POS terminals. There are approximately 300,000 such terminals in the US.
Currently there are nine phones across T-Mobile, AT&T and Verizon that are compatible with ISIS. As many as 20 are expected by year end.
Google Wallet, which has been in the market for a little over a year, has seen very low levels of consumer adoption and usage. That's partly because there are relatively few available compatible handsets. Carriers have also not been entirely cooperative. Verizon in particular has blocked Google Wallet on its handsets, theoretically because of security concerns. However, ISIS is a direct competitor and were Google Wallet to succeed ISIS might not. As it is ISIS is a very long shot for the carriers.
Beyond this there is limited consumer awareness and interest in the US in NFC-enabled smartphone payments.
Recognizing that it must do something to broaden the appeal and potential adoption of Google Wallet, the company is preparing to relaunch it soon. The Google Wallet site says, "The next version of Google Wallet, coming soon. Request an invite."
As part of the invite request process the Google Wallet site asks whether users have an iPhone, Android or "other." As widely known, the iPhone is not currently NFC compatible. All this suggests that Google is partly moving away from NFC or, perhaps more accurately, broadening Wallet's capabilities so that many more people can use it without NFC handsets.
Currently there is no leader in mobile payments in the US market. However, there are early indications that Apple's Passbook is seeing some traction among iPhone users. While Passbook supports stored value cards it right now doesn't fully support mobile payments.
For several reasons I had occasion to look back at some of the mobile predictions I made in January. At the risk of sounding self-important or boastful many of them have come to pass. In fact I was somewhat surprised by the number, which is why I'm posting about it now.
For review, here are the original predictions from January:
Here are my comments and updates on each item:
Not bad . . .
When Microsoft introduced its Surface line of tablet computers earlier this summer the burning question was: how much would they cost? While price isn't the only variable that will determine success or failure it's a big one.
Since that time several PC makers have started to announce their Windows 8 laptop lineups, with most machines coming in above $600. However today Microsoft inadvertently revealed the pricing of the devices. The screen in the Microsoft store has since come down. Below is a screen capture of the pricing page.
The basic RT model, which is Microsoft's direct iPad competitor, starts at $499 (32GB). If you want the "Touch Cover" keyboard, it goes up to $599 and then more for greater memory. The more fully equipped Windows 8 Pro models will cost more. But they essentially are the PCs of the future; a hybrid machine that will combine on-device and cloud storage.
The interesting question now that the RT's pricing has been revealed is whether consumers will consider it an iPad competitor or a laptop alternative. If it's the latter it will be in something of a different category and could do quite well. However if it's regarded and positioned as a direct iPad competitor it may suffer.
In-app messaging provider Urban Airship has just introduced a very interesting new product: Location Messaging. This is the fruit of the company's acquisition of SimpleGeo last year.
Geofencing (Placecast) and ad geotargeting (xAd, YP) have existed for some time. However Urban Airship's new product offers very precise location targeted messaging -- with the ability to mix in other audience segmentation data as well:
As a result publishers/developers are able target specific types of users by location. There's a wide array of possibilities in terms of the way this can be deployed, for loyalty or yield management purposes or to stimulate new sales. There are two qualifications: users must have the publisher's app installed and s/he must have opted in to receive push notifications.
Urban Airship has created 2.5 million "pre-defined geofences" for publishers. However they can also define (or exclude) their own custom geofences. These can be as wide as a metro area (or larger I suppose) or as precise as a park or city block.
There's lots of hand-wringing going on about publishers being unable to sufficiently monetize mobile. However, mobile push notifications offer a terrific opportunity for brands and offline businesses to drive increased sales -- if used judiciously. Accordingly the company shared some performance data with me. It was impressive.
Urban Airship said it beta-tested Location Messaging this summer during the Olympics. The company reported on its blog that "The Official London 2012 app . . . utilized Urban Airship Location Messaging to send more than 10 million location-based push messages to people in . . . Olympic venues." In addition, "Nearly 60% of app users had location-sharing enabled and location-based pushes achieved clickthrough rates of around 60 percent."
Urban Airship CMO Brent Heiggelke pointed out that despite the potential effectiveness of Location Messaging brands and marketers must be extremely careful about the content of messages they send and their frequency or risk having their notifications shut off or apps uninstalled by end users.
Apple and Amazon are the two major companies that could really shake up the "mobile payments" landscape. To some degree Apple is on deck to do that with its mobile wallet Passbook. However consumers remain to be educated about Passbook and its capabilities.
In addition, we're eventually likely to see iTunes stored credit cards become available to Passbook -- though the current iPhone is incompatible with NFC. Execution at the POS thus would be an issue unless Apple uses different materials in its future handsets.
Amazon is another "sleeping giant" in the realm of mobile payments. Indeed, from an "m-commerce" standpoint, Amazon is already in mobile payments with its existing "Checkout by Amazon" platform. However TechCrunch reported a rumor that Amazon was developing a Square competitor (SMB dongle). I wouldn't be surprised if it happened -- and relatively soon.
Amazon already has a developed payments infrastructure that supports e-commerce (online and in mobile) as well as a peer-to-peer PayPal rival. In addition Amazon may be second only to Apple in terms of the number of consumer credit cards it has on file.
While Apple claims 400 million consumer credit cards on file, Amazon has something above 200 million. The company could almost flip a switch (notwithstanding the POS issues) and become a major player in "mobile payments." It could also quickly enter the segment with the introduction of a Square-like dongle and/or the acquisition of another mobile payments provider (e.g., Braintree, Boku).
We should expect news along these lines from Amazon in the next six months. I would be very surprised if the company sat on the sidelines very much longer.
Nokia CEO Stephen Elop famously opined that there would have been less "opportunity for differentiation" had Nokia developed Android handsets. So it went with Microsoft -- and the two negotiated exclusivity provisions and other agreements. For example, Nokia Maps replaces Bing on the new Lumia 920. And Windows is the only software being used on high-end Nokia smartphones.
As part of the overall deal Microsoft is also giving Nokia billions of dollars in payments and support. What probably would have been better for the Espoo, Finland-based company is a deal that gave it the flexibility to develop Windows and Android devices, much like Nokia's Asian competitors Samsung and HTC.
To date Nokia has sold roughly 7 million Lumia units, with 4 million of those sold in Q2. Accordingly there is some positive momentum. But it's far from clear how Nokia handsets will fare in Q4 2012 with the iPhone 5 and very popular Samsung Galaxy 3 and Galaxy Note 2 competing for consumer attention.
Though impossible to estimate with any certainty, my speculation is that had Nokia produced its current hardware but with an Android OS version it would be looking at millions more units sold (perhaps 2X - 4X). My view is that the drag on Nokia handset sales is Windows rather than the hardware. This is especially true in the US market where Lumia sales are below 1 million units.
Indeed, comScore (see chart) continues to report declining Microsoft market share in the US. It's now below 4 percent. Windows Phone 8 is supposed to change that but there's nothing to indicate that the new devices will see an explosion of consumer interest.
It's not entirely clear why Nokia didn't reserve itself the option to produce an Android handset. Perhaps there's an unannounced "escape clause" that allows Nokia to explore alternative operating systems if the existing Lumia line fails to deliver enough sales for a long enough period of time.
Appcelerator released its Q3 developer survey. The quarterly survey this time polled more than 5,500 developers globally on their attitudes toward various platforms and future-trend predictions.
The survey result that's going to get most of the attention is the one that found 66% of developers believe "that it is 'likely to very likely' that a mobile-first social startup will disrupt the market for social applications on mobile devices and take market share from Facebook." Indeed, this describes Instagram before Facebook acquired it for roughly $1 billion.
Other top-level survey findings include the following:
The survey also indicated that developers were interested in Windows Phone 8 smartphones but that they were taking a wait-and-see approach. Only when Windows Phones crossed relatively high penetration levels would developers turn their attention to the platform in earnest. However developers were more sanguine about the prospects for forthcoming Windows 8 tablets.
It's also interesting that despite sales developers don't seem very interested in the Kindle Fire. Perhaps that will change if the recently upgraded line of Kindle tablets sell well.
Finally it's curious that despite continuing market-share gains developer interest in Android continues to erode. This must be a reflection of the challenges of making money on the platform.
Bango says this will allow users to buy game credits, apps and other virtual goods through "frictionless operator billing, paying on their phone, without the need to register personal details."
Bango also has deals with Google (Play), Amazon, BlackBerry App World and Opera's Mobile Store. The company added that its conversion rates are higher than the industry average for carrier billing:
Conventional operator billing is expected to achieve a 40% conversion rate. Put simply, most mobile commerce customers who click ‘buy’, do not successfully buy. Billing with the Bango payment platform delivers an average conversion rate of 77%. Most users who click ‘buy’, do buy.
While carrier billing is useful in countries where there are many "unbanked" or where the specific transaction is likely to be conducted by a younger user, in the US and much of Europe credit cards are a preferred method of payment by most adults.
Carrier billing is much more widely available than other forms of mobile payments for obvious reasons. However carrier fees are much higher typically than credit card fees and settlement can take months depending on the country.
Even though Facebook eliminated Facebook Credits, which was a surprise to me, it's possible that Facebook will eventually acquire a mobile payments provider. Bango's market cap, for example, is only $118 million. Facebook could buy the company and associated revenue stream, as well as a set of global carrier relationships -- instantly.
Amazon is the king of mobile retail; Wal-Mart is the leader of offline check-ins. Last week there were two sets of parallel data released that provided some insight into how consumers are using mobile devices, both for "m-commerce" and in stores.
Data from comScore found that among US smartphone owners “4 out of 5″ are going to retail site/apps on their handsets. Some of this is in-store price and review checking.
ComScore put the total number of mobile-retail visitors at roughly 86 million. Unsurprisingly Amazon was the leading retail destination with an audience of almost 50 million smartphone owners.
These mobile-retail site visitors were both somewhat younger and more affluent than corresponding retail site visitors on PCs.
The number four mobile retailer on the list above, Wal-Mart, is the leader when it comes to in-store check-ins. According to data compiled by LocalResponse this summer from Twitter, Foursquare, Yelp and Instagram, Saturday is the most popular day to check in followed by Friday and then Sunday. Most check-ins occurred in the afternoon or early evening.
LocalResponse also found that men were more likely than women to check in. However gender check-ins by store varied, with Target being the most popular store for women. BestBuy was the most popular check-in retail location for men.
While some retailers are creating incentives for users to check-in, this should be exploited much more aggressively both to get people into stores and as a corresponding analytics tool to indicate the success of various promotions. Hashtags, offers and other mechanisms could be used to track specific promotions. In addition, users could be "messaged" (on Twitter) or otherwise notified (i.e., on Foursquare) while in stores with further promotions and rewards.
In general traditional retailers have yet to fully recognize the potential and utilize social media check-ins for in-store loyalty and sales purposes.
Apple is famous for moving people along to the next software or OS upgrade. And iOS 6 appears to be no exception.
Less than 24 hours after it became available for public download, the new mobile OS was responsible for 15% of overall Apple device traffic on the Chitika ad network.
To measure this, Chitika said it "took a sample of millions of mobile ad impressions coming out of the Chitika Ad network ranging from September 19th to September 20th 2012. The growth rate of iOS 6 was then compared to total iOS Web usage using a time series to illustrate the rate of adoption of the new OS."
I asked Chitika whether they could extrapolate and tell me how many actual devices this represented. They declined to do that.
Source: Apple quarterly reports
If we make the assumption that the 15% of Chitika traffic translates 1:1 into individual devices -- in other words, 15% of the traffic is from 15% of all the iOS devices -- then we can crudely extrapolate using the chart above.
The iPhone 4 and 4S can upgrade to iOS 6. Apple hasn't broken out the sales figures by device generation but everything before Q2 2010 was iPhone 3GS and "below." The iPhone 4 was announced in June, 2010. Since Q2 2010 Apple has sold roughly 193 million iPhones.
It's safe then to say that well over 100 million iPhone 4 and 4Ss are in the market (that's a conservative estimate). If 15% of those now have iOS 6 running that means there are roughly 15 million such devices (around the world) that have downloaded the new OS only 24 hours after launch.
These numbers could be way off but they're probably not.
Today the pre-ordered iPhone 5s are arriving and people around the world are buying them from local stores. Accordingly the number of iOS 6 phones in market could be over 20 million (downloads + sales) within a week or two.
Today iOS 6 became available for download by the public. Among the many features of the OS upgrade, Apple Maps is getting the most attention. But perhaps more interesting is Passbook, Apple's mobile wallet. Passbook isn't a full-blown mobile payments vehicle like Google Wallet or even PayPal but it could have an immediate and profound impact on "mobile payments" and mobile loyalty programs.
As I discuss in my post on Screenwerk, Passbook could soon become the most important mobile loyalty channel for enterprises and SMBs alike. Passbook will allow users to store and retrieve tickets, boarding passes, loyalty cards, gift cards and stored payment cards. It won’t allow users to upload a general credit card (like Google Wallet) or tap into their iTunes account credit cards for mobile payments. But that’s probably coming.
Also launching today is a third party platform and API from Tello called PassTools. That's going to make it much easier for brands, enterprises and small businesses to quickly start creating "passes" and coupons and otherwise utilizing Passbook, which will have an installed base of millions very soon. I discuss the features and implications of PassTools over at Screenwerk.
Passbook may help train millions of people to use mobile wallets, something no one else has so far been able to do.
Also this week Square announced a $200 million "series D" funding round at a more than $3 billion valuation. The company is on track to do more than $8 billion in transactions (gross) this year.
Finally, this morning Groupon opened up its new Square-like SMB-focused payments tools, Groupon Payments, to the entire US market. Groupon will first go after its own daily deals merchants and then try to expand its merchant customers by undercutting Square and others with lower fees. Here's what Groupon is charging to process transactions (with a Square-like card reader or keyed in):
Activity surrounding the various flavors of mobile payments in the US is intensifying. These three developments in the space of essentially two days reflects that.
While consumers remain skeptical or ignorant or indifferent -- 71 percent in our recent survey said they're not interested in mobile payments -- the growing visibility of mobile wallets and mobile payment options (especially Passbook) will likely change all that.
If you want to see a case study in poor management at a major company look no farther than Hewlett Packard. Once an exemplar of high-quality corporate culture and employee satisfaction the company is a mess. The catalog of mistakes is long. Among them the purchase, fumbling and effective shuttering of the PalmOS.
Late last week current HP CEO Meg Whitman said that the company has to get into the smartphone business -- or more precisely back into it -- because that's where the growth is in the computing market.
If you recall, HP bought the PalmOS for $1.2 billion under former CEO Mark Hurd who was pushed out for falsifying expense reports among other ethics violations. Hurd had big plans for PalmOS but his ouster scuttled them.
When the acquisition was announced in April, 2010 I wrote the following:
It's a good outcome because HP needs to have a mobile strategy and it gives Palm and the WebOS a way to continue. Chief HP rival Dell is very clear on the critical role of mobile and portable Internet devices in its future and is rolling out numerous Android and WinMo handsets later this year.
Lenovo was also taking a look at Palm and will itself be moving more aggressively into mobile.
Given HP's financial clout and resources WebOS could emerge as a reasonably strong competitor -- perhaps most directly to RIM -- in the coming months and years, especially with new form factors. And that probably includes a WebOS-based tablet.
Obviously none of that happened. As a kind of salvage maneuver, HP decided to open-source WebOS but hasn't done a very good job of rolling that out.
Had the Palm assets been better managed HP might have a viable smartphone right now and/or be offering a open-source alternative to Android. But those outcomes would have taken vision and execution, neither of which HP seems to have.
It's quite unlikely that HP can make an Android phone that will effectively compete against Samsung and HTC. It might be able to make Android tablets but it won't be able to make them very profitably given the price competition now in the market. So while there's plenty of growth in mobile (smartphones, tablets) it's unlikely to be an area of strength or profit for HP.
Even though Nokia's Windows Phone 8 handsets and all the new Android devices feature NFC capability, its absence from the iPhone 5 deprives the technology "a mainstreaming opportunity" in the immediate future. Unlike any other company in the mobile industry Apple has the ability to popularize and educate consumers about new technologies.
A case-in-point is Siri. Speech recognition and "voice search" long-predated the iPhone 4S; however Siri was able to popularize them in ways that even Google and Microsoft could not. That would also have been true of near-field communications had the iPhone 5 incorporated it.
Apple's Passbook software/app is a mobile wallet, which will enable transactions (i.e., Starbucks stored value card). However it won't be a full-blown mobile wallet that stores a credit card an enables contactless payments. That could come with the iPhone 5S or "5N" (for NFC).
Obviously "the industry" will be moving forward with NFC rollout plans: Project Oscar in Europe, ISIS and Google Wallet in the US and so on. However consumers still need to be educated about the use cases and benefits of the technology. In some isolated situations they are or have been but for the most part -- certainly this is true in the US -- they remain ignorant of the technology itself let alone what it can do for them.
On the broader subject of mobile wallets and mobile payments (NFC is only one flavor) most US consumers have little or no interest today:
Source: Opus Research (August, 2012), n=1,501
In the US market at least there's a double challenge: sell consumers on the benefits of mobile payments, which Apple can and will help do with Passbook and other third party apps, and sell them specifically on contactless, NFC-enabled payments.
Much like President Obama's speech at the Democratic National Convention, the iPhone 5 announcement today "did what it had to do." It had to deliver a 4G capability as well as a larger screen. It did both, with a 4-inch display as opposed to the current 3.5-inch display.
In addition it offers a slightly longer battery life, a better camera and it's thinner. It also uses a new chip for better performance overall. It has enhanced audio and a smaller dock connector. It doesn't include NFC. While NFC wasn't widely expected it's still a major disappointment to the industry given Apple's ability to elevate new technologies and educate consumers about them.
The handset is the same width but taller than the iPhone 4S, which might make it aesthetically awkward. I haven't seen one in person yet. On a personal note, I would have liked to see hardware that was more of a departure from the 4S but I suppose that will have to wait.
The 3GS has been discontinued. The iPhone 4 now becomes free with a two-year carrier contract. The 4S drops to $99 and the 5 costs $199 for the entry level model (which is what most people buy). In the US it's available from Sprint, AT&T and Verizon.
This phone will probably sell well -- just how well remains to be seen. Pre-orders start on Friday with delivery on September 21.
As many of the pundits remarked after Obama's speech last week, it wasn't entirely inspiring but it "gets the job done." The same can be said for the iPhone 5.
If you're interested in more detailed coverage there's much much more, about every aspect of today's announcement, on Techmeme.
Apple's rivals have been trying to get out in front of the iPhone 5 and the announcement today. Nokia held its Lumia/Windows Phone 8 event last week. Motorola (Google) announced a number of new Android handsets and, of course, Amazon had its big Kindle Fire press conference last week as well. All of these anticipated the iPhone 5 announcement today and tried to preempt it to some degree.
Last night Google's Hugo Barra casually posted some stats on his Google+ page: "Today is a big day for Android... 500 million devices activated globally, and over 1.3 million added every single day."
Android is the dominant smartphone platform in the world -- in case you forgot. And Google wanted to get that stat out there and inserted into the blizzard of articles that will be published today about Apple and the iPhone: " . . . but Android is the market leader with 500 million devices activated globally."
The iPhone 5, as I said on my personal blog Screenwerk," is a critical release for Apple because Android phones have caught up or in some cases surpassed the device (i.e., LTE support, NFC). The new iPhone today must offer a larger screen and LTE support at a minimum to maintain consumer interest.
An unintended leak on the Apple site indicates that there will in fact be LTE support. We'll see what else in less than a half hour.
Google introduced a new YouTube app for the iPhone today, ahead of the release of iOS 6 which removes YouTube from the group of pre-installed apps on the device. There are a number of feature improvements over the current built-in YouTube app.
Depending on your perspective, one of those "improvements" will be pre-roll ads. The current YouTube app didn't feature any advertising, thus depriving Google of a potentially significant mobile ad revenue stream. The new app will have ads and pre-roll.
Here are some screenshots of the new YouTube app:
Below is a side-by-side comparison of the current and new YouTube apps for the iPhone:
The new app is nice and a bit simpler visually. But what's more interesting is what it suggests about another potential Google app for the iPhone: Maps. The question is whether (or more likely when) Google will introduce a more complete mapping app for iOS.
Just as it does with the pre-installed YouTube app, Apple iOS 6 will remove Google completely from mapping on the iPhone, replacing it with Apple's new mapping application. That could mean a potentially significant loss of local query volume for Google -- unless the company dramatically improves its HTML5 mapping experience and/or releases a new iOS Google Maps app.
There's a small possibility that if Google were to submit a new Maps app to Cupertino it might get blocked as trying to replace a core feature of the device. However there are numerous third-party mapping apps that already exist for the iPhone so I doubt it. In the event Google did submit a new iOS mapping app it would ironically mean a much better Google Maps experience for the iPhone than has been the case to date. In all probability it would also include Google Navigation, which had been missing or withheld from maps on the iPhone.
Google's dilemma is that it uses Maps and Navigation for Android as something of a competitive differentiator vs. the iPhone. If Google were to provide the same functionality to Apple it would potentially remove that particular incentive to buy Android devices.
With Android increasing its dominance around the globe, the US market seems to be something of an anomaly. Measurement firm comScore reported this morning that Apple has gained share in the US.
The iPhone now represents one out of every three smartphones in the market. Android also grew its share slightly, while Windows has continued to lose share according to comScore:
The firm also said that 114 million US adults own smartphones, representing just under 49% of the mobile subscriber population (using a base of 234 million). Nielsen, Pew, Flurry Analytics and others have found, however, that more than 50% of US adults own smartphones.
Flurry asserted recently that more than 70% of US adult mobile subscribers owned smartphones.
Amazon is holding an event next Thursday to introduce a second-generation Kindle Fire as well as a new 10-inch version in all likelihood. The company is also expected to "refresh" and upgrade its lower-end Kindles as well. There's considerable speculation about all this going on right now.
I'm less interested in talking about device "specs" (the subject of most of the current discussion) than pricing.
The current Kindle Fire succeeded -- caught fire if you will -- because of the price ($199) and the association with Amazon. Since that time the device has "sold out." In reality sales have slowed dramatically in recent months. Objectively Kindle Fire is quite a mediocre tablet for use cases other than consuming Amazon content.
Indeed, Google's Nexus 7 emerged a couple of months ago to dramatically improve upon Kindle Fire. Nexus 7 is a much better 7-inch tablet at the same $199 price point as Kindle Fire. In a head-to-head match up there's no question of which tablet to buy: Google Nexus 7.
Apple is also expected to introduce a 7-inch iPad Mini next month, along with a new iPhone. The two launches will be separate in all likelihood. The iPad Mini should also be quite appealing to those interested in a smaller tablet. And it will probably be priced competitively (around $200ish). The 7-inch tablet category will thus become a battle between Apple, Google/ASUS and Amazon. Samsung may work its way in with new devices, however.
In terms of features and usability, it's extremely unlikely that the Kindle Fire 2.0 will trump either the Nexus 7 or the iPad Mini. Beyond Amazon's content ecosystem it's chief weapon is pricing -- perhaps its only real weapon now. And in an effort to gain some advantage vs. Google and Apple might we see Amazon lower the price of the new 7-inch Kindle Fire and introduce a cheaper 10-inch tablet (vs. iPad)?
It's quite possible -- even probable. I wouldn't be surprised if Amazon priced the Kindle Fire 2 at $179 and offered a more expensive model with more memory. A 10-inch model might start at just under $400 (to beat the iPad 2 price). Again, price was the main driver of Kindle Fire sales.
Amazon either breaks even or loses money on each Kindle Fire sold but then makes money on content sales and e-commerce thereafter. Accordingly it can afford to be aggressive on pricing. But it can't go much lower than it already has with Kindle Fire.
In any case Kindle Fire 2 is going to be a much tougher sell in a more crowded and competitive market.
Update: CNET is reporting that there won't be a 10-inch Kindle Fire to directly challenge the iPad but two 7-inch versions instead.
Whether or not responding to the recent Apple patent victory in US federal district court, Samsung has said it will be first out of the gate with a Windows Phone 8 device. The new device, announced yesterday, is called "Ativ S" and will be out before Nokia's first Windows Phone 8 handset. Indeed, Samsung will be formidable competition for Nokia with the new OS.
Meanwhile an analyst at Bernstein Research argues that US consumers simply aren't interested in the Microsoft mobile OS:
“Our research shows that for many years, poor sales of Windows-based phones stem from a deep and stable lack of consumer interest for the product. Despite numerous and repeated efforts of manufacturers (Nokia, but also Samsung and HTC) and Operators to develop an alternative to Android and Apple based on Windows, and despite the launch of numerous phones based on Windows with strong features, reviews and marketing support, the operating system remains cornered to less than 5% market share in smartphones.”
Currently Windows Phones' market share in the US is 3.8% according to the most recent comScore figures:
A consumer survey conducted by Opus Research in April indicated something quite similar in terms of demand for Windows Phones:
My next mobile phone will likely be . . .
Source: Opus Research, April 2012 (n=1,504)
These responses won't necessarily translate into sales figures -- Android is obviously leading the market -- however they do indicate a level of interest or demand for the various handsets and operating systems.
Both Microsoft and Nokia have high expectations for Windows Phone 8. It's not clear what will happen if consumer demand fails to materialize.