In Race to Beat iPhone, Who Will Win?

The big guns in tech came out swinging this week. Here are the smartphones they want you to see before Apple steals the show with a new iPhone.

The tech world is buzzing this week as Nokia and Microsoft as well as Motorola and Google make big product announcements. On Wednesday in New York, Nokia unveiled the first new Windows 8 phones and Motorola took the wraps off three new 4G LTE smartphones that boast impressive battery life. Tomorrow, Amazon joins the parade from Santa Monica, Calif., and is expected to show off new iterations of its Kindle Fire tablet.

What's with all the commotion? Timing. On Sept. 12 Apple is holding an event at which it is expected to announce its next generation iPhone and all these big guns are trying to get a jump on it.

Will it work? Here's a look at the new devices unveiled Wednesday:

Nokia

The Finnish handset maker showed off the new Lumia 820 and flagship Lumia 920. The latter particularly shines in terms of its PureView photo and video capabilities, new augmented reality features, excellent location functionality, as well as built-in wireless charging.

And as I've pointed out before, Windows Phone 8 focuses nicely on business users. It includes Office apps, and will support BitLocker encryption, a secure boot mode, and deployment of so-called line-of-business apps--things like point-of-sale apps, product catalogs, dashboards, in-field or sales apps, workflow management apps, and monitoring and response apps. It also includes features that make it easy for admins to manage WP8 devices.

But can Nokia pull sales away from Apple? Not in any large number, at least until more people get their hands on Windows Phone devices and feel more confident that it's a third ecosystem worth investing in.

Nokia says it is, and that more developers are coming over to Windows Phone. To prove it, today the company announced a slew of apps that will be exclusive--at least for a while--on its new Lumia smartphones, such as The World of Red Bull, Vimeo with a free three-month trial of Vimeo Plus, Angry Birds Roost, Bloomberg Hub, Groupon with Augmented Reality, and YouSendIt with NFC file transfer.

Motorola

Motorola might have a better chance of distracting phone buyers away from Apple.

To punctuate Motorola's first phone launch since Google bought it for $12.5 billion in May, Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt turned up to kick off the event. He talked about the evolution of the cell phone, which Motorola was first to produce, he pointed out.

He talked about what he called the "mobile first" movement, as opposed to the days when people relied primarily on desktop computers to organize their lives. "[I]f you think about it, this is an even more powerful computer because it has a location and it's something that you carry with you all the time." he said.

According to Schmidt there are now 1.3 million Android device activations per day, with the installed base of the Android ecosystem currently at 480 million, putting it in the No. 1 position. He also said ComScore pegs Android at holding 52% of the U.S. market, whereas the iPhone only has 33%. The ecosystem is so huge that to be competitive Google itself has to play in it, he said, which is why Google bought Motorola.

As for the devices Motorola introduced--the Droid RAZR M, Droid RAZR HD, and Droid RAZR MAXX HD--they look to be impressive large screen devices and will truly rock if their batteries are as incredibly long lived as the company claims. They're 4G LTE enabled and come with a pile of preloaded Google apps such as Chrome, YouTube, Google Maps, Voice Actions for Android, and Google+. By the end of the year they'll all be shipping with Android 4.1, Jelly Bean, on board.

Speaking of timing, this is where Motorola's preemptive event might take away from Apple sales. Unlike Nokia, which isn't saying exactly when its new devices will ship, at least one Motorola phone will be on sale right alongside the new iPhone, but it will undoubtedly be much cheaper. The RAZR M is available for pre-order today and will start shipping next week. And--it's only $100 after a $50 mail-in rebate with a new two-year contract with Verizon.

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