You might still be slathering on the sunscreen, but in sunless offices around the United States right now, tech trends for the 2012 holiday season are already being examined.
The questions being pondered include: What's going to be hot this holiday season? Will prices be slashed on Windows 7 machines as retailers push Windows 8 PCs? What kinds of pricing gimmicks can a consumer expect? What’s going to be the big thing in HDTVs, notebooks or cameras?
Analysts are already starting to weigh in about what great technology you can pick up in just a few months when the deals are sure to be spectacular, as well as new tech not yet released that will be available in time for you to put some holiday wrapping paper around it. Let's sum up what they've found so far.
The Hottest Products
Mobile connected devices—smartphones and tablets—are going to be super hot, followed by Ultrabooks and other laptops powered either by OS X Mountain Lion or the new Windows 8 operating system, says Steve Koenig, director of industry analysis with the Consumer Electronics Association.
Of course, the next iPhone likely will be on the scene by then, and that undoubtedly will be a popular gift. But there also will be scads of Android smartphone alternatives, not to mention Windows Phones—expect to see the first phones sporting Windows Phone 8 this fall.
As for tablet choices, there's a smorgasbord to choose from. This includes everything from the budget Google Nexus 7 tablet to the as-of-yet-unpriced Microsoft Surface—with countless variants from other manufacturers as well. And Amazon might try to make a play again this year for holiday tech purchases —the rumor mill believes that Amazon will launch a 2nd-generation Kindle Fire with a larger 8.9-inch display in time for the holiday shopping season.
About the upcoming Ultrabook deluge. More than 140 Ivy Bridge-based Ultrabooks are in the pipeline and more than 40 of those will be touch-enabled, and a dozen or so will have convertible, swiveling-screens. These touchscreen Windows 8 laptops will bring the tapping and swiping experience found on tablets to laptop users.
“Touch-enabled systems will be key for Windows 8 sales and convertible systems, combining the best of a notebook and tablet, are clearly where the industry is headed,” Koenig says.
The 3DS XL is a bigger and brighter version of Nintendo's 3DS handheld console. The Wii U will blend game play between its DS-like touchscreen controller and your TV screen and features motion-sensitive game play, streaming media support, and social gaming connectivity.
Don’t expect to see game consoles like a PS4 or an Xbox 720 any time soon, however. Sony’s console is hard to improve upon at this point, and Microsoft’s new console likely won’t come out until late next year.
As for games, which are always appreciated in holiday stockings, Bob McKenzie, GameStop senior VP of merchandising, says Madden NFL 2013, which comes out Aug. 28, will be in demand—as Madden games always are, but the next iteration looks to be the best one yet.
“Some exciting releases that are sure to fill many gift givers’ lists this year include FIFA 13 releasing Sept. 25, Pokemon Black Version 2 and Pokemon White Version 2 for Nintendo DS on Oct. 7 and Just Dance 4 on Oct. 9. One on the top of my family’s shopping list is Skylanders Giants releasing Oct. 21,” he says.
“Also, when Nintendo announces the release date for Wii U, there are many exciting games that will ship for this new platform. Some of the most anticipated at this time are: New Super Mario Bros U, LEGO City: Undercover and Ninja Gaiden 3 from Nintendo; Batman Arkham City Armored Edition and Scribblenauts Unlimited from WB Games and ZombiU from Ubisoft," McKenzie says.
"There are also many accessories for Wii U that will be popular with gamers and gift givers for holiday 2012.”
TVs are always a big item during the holidays, not necessarily as gifts, but because people are taking advantage of the plethora of good deals around during the season.
According to Gartner Principal Analyst Paul O'Donovan, the big thing this year is going to be smart TVs, which can be connected to the Internet through your broadband connection and can access a wide range of content from sites such Netflix or YouTube and let you download a range of apps such a games or use Google Maps.
“Also these smart TVs will be able to be controlled from Android-based smartphones and tablets,” O'Donovan says. “For some models, you can share content from your smartphones or tablet or even your laptop on your smart TV wirelessly. [On] some, you can use your mobile device like a wireless games machine controller and play a video game on your smart TV.”
O’Donovan says quite a few smart TV apps are being developed by LG, Samsung, and Vizio and that most TV manufacturers will be offering a range of Smart models.
[Related: Smartest HDTVs of CES 2012.]
If you plan to buy a camera, things are going to look a bit different in a few months than in holiday shopping seasons past, where shoppers tended to stock up on cheap point-and-shoot devices that were sold for less than $100.
“The camera market has really become a very specialized device market, and a lot of that has to do with the fact that consumers are using smartphones to capture and share pictures and aren’t really printing them anymore,” says IDC research analyst Chris Chute. “Cameras as a stand-alone device have sort of fallen by the wayside in that aspect… [the market for them is] declining about 15% year over year.”
What’s going to be hot, he predicts, are more expensive interchangeable lens digital cameras, such as the Canon EOS M, which will be coming out in October. Canon will be push it hard, Chute says, as will manufacturers that sell competing devices, such as lines including the Sony NEX, the Nikon 1 series, the Panasonic GF, Olympus PEN cameras, and Samsung NX cameras.
While these devices are compact like point-and-shoot cameras, they have capabilities that skew more toward the professional range and, as such, carry a higher price tag—the Canon EOS M, for example, is expected to run about $800.
“As for digital SLRs, these are perennial holiday favorites, ever since Canon introduced the first sub-$1,000 model close to 10 years ago. These days, users are often buying their second or third DSLR, and often upgrade to more expensive models,” Chute says, adding that the Canon 5D Mark III and Nikon D800 will be particularly popular with buyers.
What’s going to help, Chute says, are generous rebates that reward buyers for choosing packages—say, $200 off for buying two lenses.
Microsoft Windows 8: Repercussions
Microsoft’s new OS is going to throw a wrench into the entire Microsoft-based product scene once the OS comes out on October 26.
First, you can expect incredible deals on Windows 7 PCs, if you can still find them.
“Inventory levels are so tightly controlled these days that there’s probably not going to be too much overhang, and [for] whatever overhang there is, Microsoft is going to give you a very low-cost if not free upgrade path to Windows 8,” Koenig says.
What you’re really going to be surrounded with is a veritable landslide of Windows 8 promotions.
“This is a big deal for Microsoft, certainly with the Metro interface and what it's trying to do with its play in tablets,” Konig says. “Microsoft just had its first quarterly loss since the 80s and so that really underscores what’s going on there, and the stakes are high. Microsoft needs to make Windows 8 successful; otherwise [the company] just really can’t afford another misstep like it's had with some of its other operating systems...”
And if you think the Windows Phone operating system is dead in the water, you might underestimate the connection people may make between the Metro interface on their desktop or tablet, with the one they will be able to have on their smartphone with Windows Phone 8.
“[Microsoft's] going to start promoting [Windows Phones] to connect the two in consumer’s minds,” Koenig says. “And it would probably happen from the phone side, so if you get a Windows Phone, you can also get a Windows 8 tablet, just as an example. This makes sense because carriers like AT&T are starting to offer more shared data plans across devices.”
Speaking of bundles, you’re going to see them everywhere.
Uber Deals, Bundles, and Layaway
Koenig says not only is layaway making a comeback, you’re likely to see better deals this year than ever before. But know this—the trick is actually to get you to walk away with more in your cart.
“This holiday we’ll probably see more of these uber-bundles [such as if you buy] a 55-inch TV, you get a 40-inch TV of the same brand and type for free.”
Also look for total family computing bundles that offer a smartphone, a computer, and a tablet for one price.
Black Friday Moves to Thanksgiving Day
If you plan to get up before dawn on the day after Thanksgiving to brave the throngs of sometimes nasty people clamoring to get the best deals, you might forgo sleeping at all after eating Thursday turkey. Every year stores seem to open earlier.
“It used to be that they opened at 6 a.m. on Friday, and then it was 4 a.m., and then it was midnight madness. If you go earlier than midnight, you’re into Thursday so we’re expecting to see some of that,” Konig says.
Not only that, but “Black Friday” has a Pavlovian effect on people who associate it with red-hot deals, he says. That means, just like last year, everybody—not just consumer goods retailers, but even service providers and local mom-and-pop shops—will offer Black Friday specials that could last for a week or even the entire month of November.