With the US Thanksgiving break, which marks the beginning of the “holiday season,” just six weeks away, the Christmas gadget releases are hotting up. Not only do these releases tell you what to put on your gift list if you want to read more or weigh less, they also point to some of the trends that are reshaping industries.
At the end of last month, Amazon unveiled its new Kindle Fire HDX tablets. The two tablets – one with a 7‑inch display and the other 8.9 inches – have three times the performance of their predecessors, Amazon claims. The processor, memory and graphics performance have all improved, the screen resolution and pixel density have increased and both models come with a nifty, magnetic, origami-style cover that folds in various ways to provide a stand for the tablet.
The really significant thing, however, is the price. As always, Amazon is staying aggressive, with the 7-inch model starting at $229 – which is $100 less than Apple’s entry-level iPad mini. Of course, Apple will argue that the iPad is a better device, with more apps available, but an awful lot of consumers will see Amazon’s Christmas proposition as good enough.
Apple, for its part, is expected to unveil new iPads at an event in California later today. A new iPad mini with a higher resolution display is expected, as is an improved version of the 9.7-inch iPad.
Both the Kindle Fire and iPad mini are computers with a range of capabilities, but it’s their potential for media consumption that is really interesting. According to a report this summer by the Association of American Publishers, ebooks now represent 33% of sales of adult books, ahead of paperbacks (30%) and hardbacks (22%). Meanwhile, new services such as Oyster, which is currently a US-only, iPad-only service, are trying to get ebook subscriptions off the ground. That, sitting alongside the likes of Spotify, for subscription music, and Netflix, for film and TV, turns tablets into digital content hubs. Not that it has to stay there: the music can be transmitted to remote speakers and the TV, and films can be streamed to a TV.
Meanwhile, wearable technology continues to grow in profile. According to a recent report from Berg Insight, sales of wearables of all kinds – activity trackers, smart glasses and smart watches – reached 8.3 million units in 2012, with this number expected to rise to 64 million by 2017.
The Samsung Galaxy Gear was rated a flop by reviewers but there are alternatives on their way, including one from Adidas. A new smartwatch from Adidas will be released on 1 November at $399. Its key selling point is a built-in heart rate monitor which can be used to offer training suggestions, such as telling you to run faster if your heart rate is slowing. If it’s accurate, that could be a boon for amateur athletes; Nike’s rival smartwatch supports a heart rate monitor but it has to be strapped onto your chest.
Adidas says it isn’t aiming to make “a smartwatch per se, but the smartest running watch.” The stand-alone device has a colour screen and a built-in media player that can connect to Bluetooth headphones.
Meanwhile, Nike announced its new Fuelband earlier this month. The activity monitoring wristband has sensors that are now more accurate – no more punching the air to cheat your way to your target – and it comes in a range of colours. But the most significant improvement is that the new version tracks sleep as well as movement. That makes it a much stronger competitor to the Jawbone UP and the new Fitbit Force.
Nike has improved the Fuelband app, which still only works with Apple devices, to encourage more tracking and competition with friends to “win the hour.” It all seems a little excessive. After all, it’s the taking part in the hour that counts.
Last month I mentioned that Microsoft had agreed to buy Nokia. A few days later, Blackberry announced that it was to be bought by a consortium led by Canadian holding company, Fairfax Financial. The troubled handset maker has seen its market share collapse over the last few years, from a peak of 37% of the US market in 2010 to less than 6% at the beginning of this year, and there are rumours that the consortium might have little interest in continuing to manufacture devices. BlackBerry, meanwhile, has told its customers: “You can continue to count on us.” But for how long?
Finally, here’s a selection of the best technology stories I’ve seen over the last few weeks:
- The secrets of Bezos
In an excerpt from his book, The Everything Store, Bloomberg’s Brad Stone profiles Amazon boss, Jeff Bezos.
- You may want to password protect your body
“If you think it’s enough of a chore trying to stop thieves stealing your credit card details and hacking your Facebook, imagine trying to stop them getting into your pancreas,” writes Laura Hood at Slate.
- The joy and inspiration of revisiting great books – Kindle Daily Review
Do you start every day by checking Twitter or Facebook? Antony Mayfield proposes an alternative.
- The South Korea report: Device and app trends in the first saturated device market
Last month I mentioned the rise of the “phablet” – a mobile device that is larger than a smartphone but smaller than a tablet. Globally, they represent about 7% of mobile devices but it turns out that they are extraordinarily popular in South Korea, where they make up 41% of mobile devices.
- And then Steve said, “Let there be an iPhone”
Another piece drawn from a book, this time Fred Vogelstein on the tension within Apple before the launch of the original iPhone.
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Author: Shane Richmond writes about technology for the World Economic Forum and is the author of Computerised You: How wearable technology will turn us into computers.
Image: A woman is seen reading an e-reader in Cambridge, Massachusetts REUTERS/Brian Snyder.