Oooh, Shiny

Fall Tech Preview: Apple, Google, Samsung & Amazon Bring On the Gadgets

From Apple’s dueling iPhones to Amazon’s set top box, Winston Ross and Brian Ries preview what’s coming.

AP,Getty

Fall means football, better television, and endless Facebook pictures of the first day of school. But the best thing about this season—because it’s the best thing about life—is technology. What’s dropping, what’s tweaked, what’s going to blow our minds and change everything and ignite endless debates about whether it’s worth whatever exorbitant price tag or whether it’ll save some flagging company from a slide to bankruptcy or whatever. There is no greater human drama on the planet than what’s going to happen in tech. Except maybe, like, war and poverty and stuff.

Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP

Apple iPhone 5C & iPhone 5S

iPhones just got colorful. A year after the release of the iPhone 5, Apple unveiled two new options at an event at its headquarters in Cupertino, Calif., on Tuesday. There’s the colorful and polycarbonate-wrapped 5C, which is like the 5 except with a smaller (in-contract) price tag of $99 for a 16GB model and up. And there’s the 5S, which catches up to competitors in some categories (health and fitness monitoring, camera specs) and blows away its competitors in others. It has a processing chip that’s twice as fast as the last one. It also has a camera that secretly snaps several images every time you hit the shutter and sends you the sharpest one, along with burst mode and a flash that doesn’t ruin every photo you take with it. Oh, and there’s one other slightly cool thing: fingerprint scanning! No more stupid lock screens and typing in passwords to buy apps. The James Bond era has begun. Other Apple products to watch for this fall: a new Apple TV, an iWatch, and, if we’re lucky, new iPads.

Reed Saxon/AP

Amazon Kindle Paperwhite, Set Top Box

Amazon, the online retailer founded by newly minted Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos, has already kicked off its fall product line with an all-new Kindle Paperwhite. The Paperwhite, our favorite e-reader on the market, has only been around for 11 months but already the company has an updated model hitting shelves just in time for back-to-school shoppers. The company says the latest iteration features updated display technology with higher contrast and a better light, which is meant to ease eye strain, a faster processor (faster page turning!), and the latest touch technology (“19% tighter touch grid makes Kindle Paperwhite respond even more accurately to the smallest touches”). As an added bonus, the latest Kindle incorporates MatchBook, a new product from Amazon that lets customers who have previously purchased print books from the company—or will do so one day—get them in e-book form for $2.99 or less. The company, which has recently made bold strides into the online video market with Instant Video, also is rumored to be working on a set top box, which may or may not include videos, music, and gaming, and could give Amazon a foothold in its customers’ living rooms.

Gero Breloer/AP

Samsung Galaxy Gear and Galaxy Note

The opening shot of the smartwatch wars was fired this week when Samsung introduced the Galaxy Gear, beating Apple’s rumored iWatch to market. Soon to be available for $299 and with a 1.63-inch display, the high-tech timekeeper runs on an Android operating system and comes with a bevy of built-in apps. But don’t be fooled—the Gear is not a standalone device. Similar to the first-to-market Pebble, it works as an extension of a Samsung Galaxy device hidden in one’s pocket and is connected via Bluetooth. It can display notifications, play music, make phone calls, and take pictures. (It boasts a 1.9-megapixel camera.) But you’ll need that Samsung device to make it run, and for that, the company updated its flagship mobile phone/tablet hybrid line—affectionately called a “phablet”—the Note. The Galaxy Note III is thinner and lighter than its predecessor and ditches the standard plastic casing in favor of a faux-leather backing, available in black, white, and pink. It boasts a 5.7-inch 1080-pixel screen and a 13-megapixel camera, and will ship with the latest Android operating system. Both the Note III and the Galaxy Gear will be available September 25.

via YouTube

Google Nexus & Moto X

Apple may still be able to summon swooning tech bloggers to its Cupertino campus to unveil the latest and the greatest iOS devices, but just a 12-minute drive north, Google is silently extending its lead in the global smartphone market. Now with a smartphone manufacturer of its own in Motorola, the search giant released the Moto X, on Android of course, which as of this week is available on all four major carriers in the U.S. Up next, the rumored Nexus 5, which was inadvertently leaked in a Google-made video promoting the latest version of its Android software, KitKat. A writer for The Verge who saw the mysterious device at the :38-second mark in the video notes its “matte finish” and spots a “large camera lens that hasn’t appeared on any existing Nexus devices.” A release in time for the holidays would make for a great gift, but nothing’s confirmed yet.

Powers Imagery/Invision/AP

Microsoft Xbox One Vs. Sony PS4

Some prognosticators in the gaming industry are betting that the latest consoles from tech goliaths Microsoft and Sony will be the last ever made, as we shift into a world of obsolete disc-based games and streaming everything. If that’s true, the Xbox One vs. the PS4 is the final, epic, chilling conclusion of the great Console Wars. The early returns, at least for polls and pundits, brought a clear victory for Sony, thanks to some tone-deaf/bone-headed public-relations moves from Microsoft. But the makers of Xbox hope they’ll tortoise right past the hare eventually by focusing on the Xbox-as-complete-entertainment package. Sure, games. But Microsoft wants you to do everything with that Xbox: play music, stream movies, save the world. Then again, so does Sony.

Alastair Grant/AP

The Microsoft-Nokia Lovechild

Depending on who’s talking, Microsoft was really stupid or really brilliant to buy Nokia last week for $7.2 billion. The thinking was that Microsoft would be better off with more control over both the software and hardware components of its seemingly quixotic attempt to wriggle into the smartphone operating system market. But there seems to be fairly universal agreement that with PC sales flagging, Microsoft is willing to place a pretty huge bet on trying to build a better mobile OS, and it’ll be interesting to see what happens now that it has more Apple-like vertical integration. Just don’t hold your breath for a true third party—not yet, anyway.