It is beginning to look a lot like a big season in the US for mobile gadgets.
A major event is the still-rumored launch by Apple Inc next month of a new iPhone, expected to ignite fresh growth in the smartphone market in the US and worldwide.
Apple is also widely expected to unveil a new tablet computer that will be a smaller version of the hot-selling iPad.
However, other big tech firms are not sitting idle.
Microsoft Corp is launching its new Surface tablet in late October, and will be pushing hard to sell Windows-powered smartphones. Google has already launched its own branded tablet and smartphone selling alongside other devices powered by its Android system from makers, including Samsung Electronics Co.
Many analysts expect Amazon to unveil at least one updated model of its Kindle Fire tablet computer at a news conference on Sept. 6.
“This is the first time Apple has faced competition on a number of critical fronts. And it’s the first time competition is coming from Google directly,” said Rob Enderle, a technology analyst and consultant with the Enderle Group.
Enderle said he expects Microsoft to spend US$1 billion on marketing for its new devices and its Windows 8 platform.
“So the conflict in the fourth quarter is going to be legendary,” Enderle said.
The Consumer Electronics Association projects record sales of electronics of US$206 billion this year, the first time above the US$200 billion mark.
Tablet sales along are expected to reach US$29.1 billion, up 83 percent, the association said.
US smartphone sales will total US$33.7 billion this year, for more than 108 million units, according to the group.
Analyst Colin Gillis at BGC Partners said he sees “feverish” anticipation for the new iPhone, and predicts Apple will sell 10 million of the new phones at the launch and 14 million iPads in the fourth quarter.
However, Ramon Llamas, an analyst with research firm IDC, said there is strong potential for growth from the new Windows-powered phones expected from Nokia Oyj and others.
Sarah Rotman Epps at Forrester Research said Microsoft has been losing ground by being late to the party and will cede more customers with its relatively late release of Windows 8 on Oct. 26.
She said that at the start of last year, Windows was the preferred operating system for consumers, but that has slipped as Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS dominate the market for mobile devices.
“Microsoft is rapidly losing mindshare among consumers, but once it hits the market, we do think it will gain traction,” she said.
Jack Gold of consultancy J. Gold Associates said Samsung, the biggest maker of Android phones also expected to launch Windows-based devices, “is going to continue to be the market leader in smartphones” because of its “huge momentum.”
Gold said the new competitive landscape may be good for consumers, possibly bringing down prices.
“I think there is going to be tremendous pressure on Apple to lower their prices,” he said. “Apple has the high end of the market but that only works when they have a huge advantage.”
One problem for Apple is that rivals such as Google and Amazon are subsidizing their devices to drive consumers to their content — books, music, film and shopping.
Some analysts say the US$200 Kindle Fire and Google Nexus tablets are sold at a loss.
“Apple will have to respond,” Gold said.