It's a time of change in the mobile electronics industry, with a number of potentially game-changing developments in the air:
Apple is reported to be introducing a smaller, 7-inch tablet, which would compete with the Google's Nexus 7 and with e-reader/tablet combos like the Amazon Kindle Fire and Barnes & Noble's Nook Color. Amazon is supposedly preparing to introduce a newer, upgraded Kindle Fire, while (again, according to rumor) continuing to sell the original at a discounted price. Barnes & Noble has already dropped prices on the Nook Color.
Meanwhile, Microsoft is preparing to introduce its Windows 8 operating system, which will be available on computers and on tablets, including Microsoft's own Surface tablet as well as tablets from third-party manufacturers. Will Microsoft be able to leverage its dominance in the business market to promote its new operating system, by touting the seamless cooperation between Windows 8 tablets, Windows 8 computers and the various permutations of Microsoft Office?
Speaking of Microsoft, it's also preparing to introduce Windows Phone 8. Despite the fact that Microsoft had been working to promote Windows 7.5 as the next big thing in mobile phone operating systems, it's basically gone back to the drawing board. Although Windows Phone 8 uses the same tile interface as Windows Phone 7.5, they're completely different under the hood -- because Windows Phone 8 is actually a close cousin of Windows 8, designed to create an even tighter linkage within Microsoft's ecosystem (desktops, laptops, tablets, phones) than there is in Apple's ecosystem.
But Windows 7.5 (which I, as an individual user, dearly love) has had a hard time getting any traction among consumers. Now, Microsoft is starting all over again.
Google, which completed its acquisition of Motorola Mobility a few months ago, is now making big cutbacks at the company. Google bought Motorola mostly for its patents, according to most observers, because of the ongoing patent wars in the mobile phone and tablet industries, such as the court case that's been in the news this week between Apple and Samsung. But Motorola is a business, not just a file cabinet full of patents. According to the New York Times, Google plans to focus Motorola on making high-end smartphones and tablets.
Both Google, which backs the Android operating system, and Microsoft have to tread carefully in the manufacturing waters. Microsoft, with its Surface tablet, and Google, with the Nexus 7 and whatever it starts producing through Motorola, want to show off the high-end capabilities of their respective operating systems. But both make most of their money by letting others produce hardware to run their operating systems. They must be careful not to compete too aggressively with their best software customers.
And Microsoft, don't forget, recently invested heavily in Barnes & Noble's Nook.
Apple, of course, doesn't have to worry about this. Years ago, it briefly flirted with licensing its computer operating system to other manufacturers, but the late Steve Jobs put a stop to that and only Apple produces products running Mac OS or iOS.
Between Amazon, Apple, Barnes & Noble, Google and Microsoft, plus their manufacturing partners, a lot of new products are expected between now and Christmas. It should be interesting to see which ones are successful, and whether the current hierarchy of operating systems changes as a result.
--John I. Carney is city editor of the Times-Gazette and covers county government. He is also the author of the self-published novel "Soapstone." His personal web site is lakeneuron.com.