By Lisa Johnston
New products on display at the American International Toy Fair, held in N
NEW YORK — Retailers will get to choose from among more smartphone SKUs in the coming months as vendors expand their selections to offer devices for a variety of wallets and a variety of screen sizes up to 6.3 inches.
The growing SKU count, however, will come from fewer vendors. No new NECbrand smartphones or Casio G’Zone smartphones will make their way to the U.S. market now that NEC Casio Mobile Communications decided to stop developing, manufacturing or selling new smartphone models. The company complained it can’t generate the economies of scale needed to compete as Apple and Samsung consolidate market share and Chinese vendors get more aggressive.
The company, however, will continue to offer conventional mobile phone handsets.
More vendors might follow in NEC Casio’s footsteps, retailers and carriers fear.
BlackBerry’s board, for example, revealed that it is exploring joint ventures, strategic partnerships, the possible sale of the company and other strategic alternatives “to enhance value and increase scale in order to accelerate BlackBerry 10 deployment.”
BlackBerry’s statement didn’t say the company would exit the smartphone market, but the company has continued to lose smartphone market share since the launch this year of its new BlackBerry 10 OS phones, and the company sank back into the red in its fiscal first quarter after posting two consecutive quarters of net profits from continuing operations.
Other smartphone brands are also losing market share, according to a ComScore survey of smartphone users. For the three-month period ending June, Apple and Samsung increased their share of the U.S. installed smartphone base on a sequential basis by 0.9 and 2 percentage points, respectively, to 39.9 percent and 23.7 percent. At the same time, among the top five market-share holders, HTC’s share fell 0.5 percentage points, Motorola’s share fell 1.3 percentage points, and LG’s share fell 0.2 percentage points.
Undeterred, all three companies promise a battle to regain share, with all three having recently announced new models.
New models from other companies are also expected in short order. Samsung, for example, launched its biggest phablet to date, the 6.3-inch Mega, and the company is expected to unveil its latest Galaxy Note phablet on Sept. 4, the same day that Sony is expected to unveil one or more new smaprtphones.
For its part, Nokia is said to be planning its first 6-inch Windows Phone 8 phablet, and in early September, Apple is projected to unveil two new iPhones for the first time to offer a choice of a premium and more affordable model, both incorporating the latest technologies.
Here are the key smartphone developments announced in recent days:
AT&T launched the 6.3-inch Samsung Galaxy Mega smartphone/tablet hybrid, Motorola’s flagship Moto X, and the HTC One Mini on Aug. 23.
AT&T is the first carrier to offer these phones in the U.S. market.
The carrier priced the Mega at $149 with two-year agreement and at $24/month for 12 months (or $288) without contract under the carrier’s Next trade-in program.
The Android 4.2.2 phablet is available through the carrier’s direct and indirect channels, but the Next program is not yet available through the indirect channels, a spokesperson said.
(See below for more details on the three products.)
Mega’s addition at AT&T expands the carrier’s lineup of Galaxy smartphones.
Under the carrier’s Next trade-in program, consumers buying direct from AT&T trade in their existing device and pay $24/month for 12 months to buy the phablet with no down payment or financing fees. After 12 months, users can trade in the device to upgrade to a newer device with no upgrade fee or down payment.
HTC launched its One Mini through AT&T, the first carrier to offer it. The One Mini is a smaller version of HTC’s flagship HTC One smartphone. It became available through direct and indirect channels on Aug. 23.
AT&T priced the phone at $99 with two-year contract. The phone is also available under the Next program.
The Mini’s features include 4.2-inch 720p 341 PPI display and dual-core 1.4GHz processor, compared with the One’s 4.7-inch 1080p 468 PPI display and quad-core 1.7GHz processor. The Mini retains the One’s aluminum unibody design and such key features as HTC’s UltraPixel Camera with f/2.0 aperture and backside illumination, 1080p video capture with HDR, HTC Zoe, HTC Boom- Sound, and the HTC BlinkFeed homescreen, which delivers a stream of information to a homescreen, including social updates, entertainment and lifestyle information, news and sports.
The Mini is shorter, thinner and lighter than the original HTC One and measures 5.2 inches by 2.5 inches by 0.36 inches. It weighs 4.3 ounces.
Separately, HTC expanded distribution of its flagship HTC One to additional carriers. The device has been available from AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile since April, but Verizon launched it Aug. 22 in stores and online at $199.
Meantime, regional carrier C Spire of Mississippi also launched the device at $199.
The phone features a 4.7-inch FullHD 1080p display, front-facing stereo speakers and BlinkFeed.
LG’s G2 flagship will be LG’s first flagship smartphone to launch on all four carriers in a bid to build the company’s meager smartphone share. (See TWICE, Aug. 12, p. 4.) Price and availability dates were not available at press time.
Motorola’s flagship MotoX smartphone was launched by AT&T on Aug. 23, and Verizon Wireless, Sprint and U.S. Cellular plan to offer it at a later date.
Motorola also plans to offer it on its website with T-Mobile service.
AT&T priced the 16GB Moto X for $199 and the 32GB Moto X for $249 with two-year contract. Under the AT&T Next program, the 16GB model is priced at $27 per month for 12 months, and the 32 GB model is $32 per month.
A customizable version of the AT&T-network phone will be available initially only through AT&T store kiosks and Motorola’s website, Consumers will be able to select color options for the front and back; select accent colors for the power and volume keys and camera ring; add the owner’s name or short message on the back of the phone; choose wallpapers and a custom power-on message; and choose 16GB or 32GB memory capacities. The phone will then be assembled in the U.S. and shipped in four days or less, AT&T said.
Samsung brought its previously announced 6.3-inch Galaxy Mega smartphone/tablet hybrid to the U.S. market, initially with AT&T on Aug. 23, but Sprint and U.S. Cellular plan to offer it at a later date. The latter two carriers had not announced an availability date at press time, although Sprint said it would offer the device “later this year.”
The company said the device is designed for “those who want to experience smartphone portability with the immersive experience of a tablet.”
The Galaxy Mega features Android 4.2.2, 1.7GHz dualcore CPU, 1.5GB of RAM, HD TFT display, expandable storage via MicroSD card, 8-megapixel main camera, 1.9-megapixel front camera, Wi-Fi a/b/g/n/ac, Wi-Fi Direct, Bluetooth 4.0, Mobile High-definition Link (MHL) and a 3,200 mAh lithium-ion battery.
It does not come with an S Pen stylus like the Galaxy Note phablet and Note tablets, but it does feature Air View, which lets users hover a finger an inch above the screen to preview emails and photos, initiate speed-dial and even magnify text. Multi Window split-screen multitasking allows users to run multiple apps on one screen simultaneously.
WatchOn Control turns the phablet into an IR remote. Easy Mode helps first-time smartphone owners by simplifying the homescreen layout.
Sprint launched its second Windows Phone 8 smartphone, the Samsung Ativ S Neo. The $150 device joined the $99 HTC 8XT.
The device became available through Sprint’s direct channels on Aug. 16 and was to become available to Sprint’s indirect sales channels in the following weeks.
The Samsung model is Sprint’s first Windows 8 phone with international voice and data roaming via quadband GSM voice, quadband EDGE data, 1.9/2.1GHz W-CDMA voice and 1.9/2.1GHz HSPA+ 3G data.
The phone features a 4.8-inch HD display, 1.4GHz dual-core processor, 16GB memory, 1GB of RAM and 64GB MicroSD slot.
The phone’s Ativ Beam technology uses nearfield communications (NFC) technology and Bluetooth to share photos, music and videos with other Windows Phone 8 smartphones and some Android devices.
This TWICE webinar, hosted by senior editor Alan Wolf, will take a look at what may be the hottest CE products at retail that will be sold during the all-important fourth quarter. Top technologies, market strategies and industry trends will be discussed with industry analysts and executives.