It’s shaping up to be an especially interesting September for mobile gadgets, and for the companies that make them. Rumored new phones, tablets and smartwatches from Apple (AAPL), Motorola (GOOGL), Sony (SNE) and others could shake up the market and offer consumers a wider range of choices, possibly with compelling new features.
The leading companies are aiming to prove wrong analysts who say there’s not much excitement or innovation left in the smartphone arena as sales growth slows and competition from cheaper, Asian manufacturers intensifies.
Apple overhauls the iPhone’s physical design every other year, making 2014 a potentially exciting year for the company’s many devoted fans. Based on numerous media reports, Apple is expected to unveil two larger-screen models at a September 9 event. A smartwatch or other wrist-worn device is also a possibility, according to some reports. The company has not confirmed the rumors, however.
Upping the iPhone’s screen size from 4 inches to 4.7 and 5.5 inches will give customers a lot more space to play their favorite games and watch Youtube videos. It should also help boost Apple’s market share at the high end of the smartphone market, where larger-screen models have captured an increasing proportion of sales.
The new phones, and rumored wearables, will also be compatible with Apple’s new HealthKit and HomeKit initiatives. HealthKit will store a user’s biometric and exercise data while HomeKit will connect iPhones to home automation systems.
Will Apple sell on the news?
For investors, the question is whether Apple’s shares will repeat their prior pattern of rallying ahead of an announcement and then selling off once the news is disclosed. Shares of Apple gained an average of 8% in the month ahead of the past two iPhone announcements, then lost an average of 4% for the following month. Apple shares have been strong of late, gaining 33% since the end of April and hitting a split-adjusted record of $101.98.
Five days before the Apple event, Google’s Motorola division is expected to take the wraps off its newest phones, also including models with larger screen sizes. Moto has been steadily gaining critical acclaim – and sales – for new models it started rolling out last year, including the high-end Moto X and less expensive Moto G and E. But the once dominant mobile phone maker hasn’t made any profits since Google bought the company in 2012. Lenovo agreed to buy the unit for $2.9 billion in January, but the deal hasn’t closed yet.
The rumored Moto X+1 is expected to arrive with a 5-inch screen, up from last year’s 4.7 inches, while the Moto S is expected to compete among phablets with its almost 6-inch screen.
Most of the other announcements, including from Samsung and Sony, will happen around the annual German tech conference, Internationale Funkausstellung Berlin, known as IFA.
Samsung had been the hottest smartphone maker until this year. In the premium market, the Galaxy S5, introduced in February, has sold relatively well but not as well as the company hoped. And Samsung has been rapidly losing ground to Lenovo, Huawei and other Asian makers at the lower end of the Android market.
But expectations are muted for Samsung’s scheduled September 3 press conference. Analysts don’t think the expected new phablet, a 5.7-inch Galaxy Note 4, will help Samsung claw back much of the lost ground.
Sony has also struggled lately. In July, the company slashed its smartphone sales forecast to 43 million devices from 50 million for its fiscal year ending next March, representing only 10% growth.
On Facebook, Sony teased a new mid-range phone, the Xperia M2 Aqua, and a waterproof version of its Smartband fitness tracker. That won’t be enough to reverse the company’s fortunes but should give swimmers a new choice for activity tracking. It's also expected to make official its much-leaked new flagship phone, the Xperia Z3, and possibly new tablets and watches.
With rumors swirling about a possible smartwatch from Apple, LG and Asus are moving to pre-empt. Asus touted its September 3 event by tweeting a quote from Lebanese poet Khalil Gibran: “Time has transformed and we have changed.”
LG, which introduced a square-shaped smartwatch earlier this year, is expected to go round at its event; a round watch with step counting and a compass is clearly visible in LG's promotional video.
But smartwatches have garnered few sales so far this year, and analysts aren’t much excited about the prospects of the upcoming debuts. Still, with all the announcements coming in September, gadget lovers will have a host of new options to consider.