A boring summer for tech is about to get a lot more exciting. Here's what to expect.
The dog days of summer are here, and with them, a certain ennui seems to have washed over the tech world. But as July becomes August, things will begin to kick into high gear.
The big dogs of the tech industry -- Apple, Google, Microsoft, Amazon, and a host of others -- know that the all-important fourth quarter is when shoppers get serious. Last fall's go-to products -- Kindle Fire and Nexus tablets, iPads, iPhones -- are getting long in tooth, and ready for a refresh. Not coincidentally, a lot of the back-to-school sales are 2012 models, sold at blowout prices to clear shelf space for the all-important Christmas season.
The parade of new products starts this week, with launch events from Google and Verizon. Here's what we have to look forward to -- starting now, and continuing into September.
We don't think of Verizon as a tech powerhouse on the scale of Google or Apple, but Big Red is the No. 1 wireless provider in the U.S., so any new Verizon-friendly devices are a big deal.
What to expect: Last September, Motorola announced a trio of Verizon-exclusive Droid Razr phones -- the Droid Razr HD, the Droid Razr Maxx HD, and the Droid Razr M. Don't be surprised if we see their successors unveiled this week. (Verizon may finally officially announce the launch date of the HTC One on its network, having already confirmed that it's on its way.)
Mark your calendar: July 23, 9 a.m. PT (confirmed)
May's Google I/O developer event came and went without any big hardware reveals. But we expect Google's just-announced July 24 event -- billed as a breakfast with Android and Chrome head honcho Sundar Pichai -- to be considerably more eventful.
What to expect: The next Nexus 7 tablet is all but confirmed, along with Android 4.3. A Chrome OS upgrade (or new Chromebook) is possible, too. We may even see a successor to the ill-fated Nexus Q, or possibly a watch or video game console.
Mark your calendar: July 24, 8:30 a.m. PT (confirmed)
The Moto X may be the worst-kept secret in tech right now, but the few remaining questions about the first Motorola smartphone produced under Google's stewardship of the company it purchased in 2011 will be wiped away on August 1. That's when the phone gets its grand unveiling in New York City.
What to expect: We already know quite a bit about the X, but we'll finally get the full list of details -- including price, availability, and supported carriers -- once the phone becomes official.
Mark your calendar: August 1 (confirmed)
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos unveiled the current line of Amazon Kindle Fire tablets (and Kindle e-ink readers) on September 6, 2012. While a 2013 event has yet to be announced, it's a safe bet that the e-commerce giant isn't going into the fall buying season without a full refresh of the line.
What to expect: Amazon's hardware strategy is less about groundbreaking tech and more about delivering amazing value. So while the new Fire tablets and Kindle readers will no doubt offer worthwhile tech upgrades over last year's models, we expect the real news here to be the price: don't be shocked to see a 32GB Fire HD clock in at $199, for instance. Among the wildcards we could see: an Amazon video streaming box (a la Roku or Apple TV) and maybe -- maybe -- the long rumored smartphone.
Mark your calendar: late August or early September (likely)
Microsoft has had a rough time of it lately, with a company wide reorganization, a $900 million writedown on the Surface RT and a very public 180 on the DRM policies of its upcoming Xbox One console. But if you step back, there may be some reasons for optimism.
What to expect: Microsoft already has two keystone products on deck for a fall refresh: the Xbox One is coming in November for $499, and Windows 8.1 is likely to hit in September or October.
Could Microsoft prime the Windows 8.1 pump with a Surface 2? The company has certainly learned some painful lessons with the original model, but a few well-placed tweaks -- and a Haswell upgrade -- could make the product a serious tablet/PC competitor, if not an outright success.
Meanwhile, while Windows Phone remains a fringe player, marketshare has been ticking upward. With solid devices (Lumia 925, Lumia 1020) from Nokia and others, Microsoft's mobile OS seems to be in a better place than, say, BlackBerry. But whether Microsoft is going to release its own phone or perhaps a watch (another watch, that is) remains strictly rumor mill fodder for now.
Mark your calendar: Xbox One releases November (confirmed); Windows 8.1 hits in late Q3 or early Q4; if we get a Surface 2, expect a September or October announcement
Apple's last big product announcement was the iPad Mini back in October of 2012. So far in 2013, it's been very quiet, with only a cameraless iPod Touch, a T-Mobile iPhone, and MacBook Air upgrades hitting stores.
What to expect: Apple has already shown iOS 7 and Mac OS X Mavericks, and the company already previewed a long overdue update to the Mac Pro -- all of them will hit in the third quarter, along with Apple's free iTunes Radio streaming audio service.
The big questions revolve around the iPhone and iPad. The safe bets are a "budget" iPhone (don't be surprised if it's sold only in developing markets like China), an iPhone 5S, and a thinner, lighter iPad 5. In addition to the annual iPod refresh, expect additional Mac upgrades -- the Macbook Pro with Retina Display, iMac, and Mac Mini are still due the upgrades to Intel's Haswell CPU that have already been incorporated into the Air.
Beyond that, the Magic 8 Ball says "Reply hazy -- try again." While a refreshed iPad Mini is likely, it's unclear if Apple can squeeze a high-res Retina screen into the Mini's 7.9-inch display in time for the holidays. There are also rumors of a larger-screen iPhone. And the Apple TV box should see some additional apps -- Time Warner Cable and the CW Network -- but whether they'll hit before year's end is anyone's guess.
What about actual new products, rather than upgrades of existing models? Collective wisdom puts the rumored iWatch and Apple HDTV into 2014 (at the earliest, if at all). That said, CEO Tim Cook quipped in April: "I don't want to be more specific, but I'm just saying that we've got some really great stuff coming in the fall and across 2014." Investors and consumers alike are no doubt hoping he and Team Apple will deliver as they transition into the post-Steve Jobs era.
Mark your calendar: mid-September to mid-October (likely); could be one or two events
Beyond the confirmed and likely events listed above, look for the Sony PlayStation 4 this holiday season. And Intel's secretive streaming TV box, allegedly dubbed OnCue, may see the light of day later this year -- if and when Intel can get a quorum of TV networks to sign on the dotted line. In the meantime, upstarts like Fan TV will be nipping at their heels.
Of course, that's only the stuff we know about, and can reasonably infer. A corporate merger or two could always shake things up. And the tech world is only a Kickstarter away from something truly disruptive.