By Lisa Johnston
New products on display at the American International Toy Fair, held in N
NEW YORK – The smartphone market will grow more competitive now that carriers are promoting new trade-in programs that could encourage more-frequent trade-ups by consumers.
Smartphone vendors see the programs as a potential opportunity to expand their U.S. market share faster than they otherwise could, and into this environment, they’ve launched a variety of low-tier to flagship handsets that they hope will encourage consumers to trade their older phones for theirs.
New phones include new flagship models from LG and Motorola, a trio of new Motorolamade Droid models for Verizon, and an expanded selection of LG models for T-Mobile and Virgin Mobile.
And more smartphones are on the way. On Sept. 4, Samsung will unveil what is expected to be the company’s next-generation Note 3 phablet to replace the current Galaxy Note 2 smartphone/tablet hybrid.
More than 60 percent of smartphone owners are aware that they can trade in their existing device for a new device, and more than half of smartphone owners plan to do so when they get a new phone, The NPD Group found in a consumer survey. Currently, only 13 percent of smartphone owners said they traded in their previous mobile device.
Growing awareness of trade-in options could potentially shift consumers’ loyalty from one carrier, retailer, and handset supplier to another and from carrier stores to indirect retail stores, NPD said.
Following Nokia’s announcement of a $299 41-megapixel Lumia 1020 Windows smartphone for AT&T, the following companies made some announcements of their own.
Motorola’s first branded flagship since its acquisition by Google is the Moto X, whose launch was described by Motorola Mobility CEO Dennis Wood side as “a relaunching of Motorola itself.”
The phone, which features dualcore 1.7GHz CPU and 4.7-inch 720p 316 ppi display, will become available in late August or early September exclusively through AT&T carrier stores at launch, followed by Verizon Wireless, Sprint and U.S. Cellular stores. It will also be available through Motorola’s website for activation on the T-Mobile network and through national retailers such as Best Buy. The suggested retail is $199 for the 16GB version and $249 for a 32GB with two-year contract.
The Moto X will run the Android 4.2.2 OS and features 2GB of RAM.
Product management senior VP Rick Osterloh demonstrated the phone’s Touchless Control “hands-free, eyesfree” capabilities. The phone responds to the owner’s voice commands even when locked or in sleep mode. A voice command of “OK, Google Now” activates the voice-activation feature, and the phone carries out a subsequent voice command or search inquiries.
An initial training setup teaches the phone to respond only to the owner’s voice. In a demo, the Moto X responded to voice commands from as far as 15 feet away, even with a moderate level of ambient noise in the room.
Osterloh also demonstrated the Moto X’s Active Display technology, which allows such information as time of day and message notifications to fade in and out on the phone’s 4.7-inch 720p AMOLED screen when in sleep mode without the need to physically turn on the phone. Active Display info immediately appears when the phone is picked up. The type of info displayed is customizable by the user.
The phone also features 24-hour battery life under “normal usage” and a 10-megapixel rear-facing Quick Capture camera that can be turned on with a gesture. Two twists of a user’s wrist turns the camera on, autofocuses the lens, and sets the exposure level automatically. Touching the screen anywhere snaps a photo. Touching and holding the screen prompts a burst of rapid-fire shots.
The Moto X offers Motorola Assist mode to minimize interruptions when the user is driving or sitting in a meeting. While the user is driving, for example, the phone can detect when the car is in motion and can be set to Talk to Me mode, which will read incoming messages, alert to who is calling or auto reply to incoming texts.
Meeting mode can be set to sync with a user’s Google calendar to silence the phone when appropriate and auto reply to messages. It can also be set to allow designated favorite contacts to override the meeting mode.
The Moto X also features Qi wireless charging and a Wireless Display mode that displays whatever is on the screen to a Miracast-enabled TV.
Motorola emphasized the fashion aspect of the Moto X. While the phone will roll out to retailers in basic black or white, the company is launching Moto Maker, a website that will allow consumers to customize a phone’s back, front frame and accents with more than 20 custom colors initially, and various finishes and textures to come, including an all wood-bodied Moto X. The finished phone is shipped to the buyer in four days or less.
A kiosk in AT&T carrier stores will do the same. Users will pay for the phone in the store and have it shipped to them in four or fewer days.
Verizon Wireless maintained Motorola as the supplier of its Droid brand of smartphones and launched a trio of models that include the industry’s thinnest LTE smartphone and an LTE smartphone with the industry’s longest battery life at 48 hours of normal use.
The three Android 4.2.2 smartphones, available Aug. 20 in direct and indirect channels, are — like the Moto X — the industry’s first Android smartphones with voice activation, or touchless control, of Google Now.
All three, which replace three current LTE-equipped Droids, also feature a new app called Zap, which lets users use two fingers to swipe a picture or video to send it, via the Cloud, to other Droid users up to 300 feet away based on those phones’ GPS location.
The phones are the $99 Droid Mini with 4.3-inch screen, the $199 5-inch Ultra whose 7.18mm depth makes it the thinnest LTE smartphone available, and the $299 Maxx, whose battery delivers 48 hours of normal use to deliver more battery life than any other LTE phone, Verizon said.
Despite the longer battery life, the Maxx with 8.5mm depth is 9 percent thinner than its predecessor, which delivered 32 hours of normal- use batter life.
Like the Moto X, they also feature Active Display, the fast picture-taking enhancements, nearfield communications (NFC) technology, Miracast, 10-megapixel main camera, 2-megapixel front camera, 720p touchscreen display, 1.7GHz CPU, 2GB of RAM and a proprietary 8-core Motorola 8X computing system.
The top two Droids, like the MotoX, also feature NFC.
The Maxx comes with 32GB of storage, while the other two feature 16GB. None features removable memory or removable battery.
LG is expanding its smartphone selection in T-Mobile and Virgin Mobile.
T-Mobile is adding three new LG smartphones to expand its LTE selection. The models include the G-series flagship G2 and the Optimus F6. Their price and availability will be announced in “the coming weeks,” T-Mobile said.
The third phone is the LG Optimus F3, positioned as the carrier’s lowest-priced LTE Android phone.
And no-contract wireless brand Virgin Mobile expanded its selection of LTE phones to five with the addition of its first LTE-equipped smartphone from LG, the Optimus F3, which expands Virgin’s selection of the vendor’s smartphones to three from two.
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