Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Consumer Tech Hardware Wars Heat Up

The past several weeks has seen a continuing convergence between hardware and software and a ratcheting up of the competitive fires between tech giants Amazon (Nasdaq: AMZN), Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL), Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) and Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT) with the unveiling of new devices from both Google and Microsoft.

In actuality, the latest product unveilings indicate that companies like Google and Microsoft seem to be adopting Apple's corporate strategy. That approach involves integrated hardware and content. And it is a successful one...Apple dominates the tablet market with a two-thirds market share.

Google launched two new products – a new 7-inch tablet computer and a living-room media streaming device (Nexus Q) which runs on the latest version of its Android software, Jelly Bean. This version of Android, by the way, will offer voice search capabilities similar to Apple's Siri virtual assistant.

The Nexus 7 tablet is priced at only $199, undercutting the $399 price of Apple's entry-level iPad by a good margin. And on the content side, where Google trails Apple and Amazon, the company announced new TV and movie deals with content providers such as Disney and NBCUniversal and publishers like Hearst. Both devices also integrate the company's social network, Google+ while the Google Now feature offers live sports and traffic information based on users location.

The week prior to the launch of Google's tablet Microsoft showed off its entry into the tablet market, the Surface, which has a 10.6 inch screen. It also has a stand, two cameras and a built-in touch keyboard. The main difference between the Surface and other tablet offerings is that it will offer users an experience more akin to a laptop PC.

Microsoft will offer two versions of Surface. The more expensive version will run on Windows 8 (due out in the fall) and uses a new Intel Core processor. A lower priced version features Windows RT and runs on an ARM processor that is found in most tablets. The company has yet to reveal at what price the two versions of Surface will sell for.

Of course, Amazon is not standing idly by. The company also offers a $199 tablet based on the Android operating system. And it recently announced that, for the first time ever, it is recruiting app developers as the company prepares to roll out its smartphone and tablet (including the Kindle Fire) platforms later this year in Europe.

So can any of the new devices challenge Apple's supremacy in tablets? Of course, they can. The tech world is constantly in a state of flux. But there is one key to doing that.....

That key has to be the thousands of independent software applications developers. Without content and apps, rivals to Apple (the iPad offers more than 225,000 apps) have little chance to compete. Can Microsoft and others entice app developers into writing apps to be downloaded to their devices? Google has a decent job so far with thousands of apps available and with 20 billion downloads. Now it remains to be seen if Microsoft can get developers to come up with apps for the Surface.

This article was originally written for the Motley Fool Blog Network. make sure to read my daily articles for the Motley Fool at http://blogs.fool.com/tdalmoe/.

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